BWW Review: Thomas Walters' Debut of the Dead At 13th Street Repertory Theater
So you've found your family a nice plot in the middle of a cemetery, right where dear Grandpa Isaac was recently laid to rest. With nerve-wracking moments brought to you by the family TV set, a son who has little discretion when it comes to public acts of sexual affection and townsfolk who stop by as a reminder of how crazy life has become (or has possibly always been), the Goats family certainly has its collective hands full with matters of life and death.
Faced with the mundaneness of life but with a foot in the underworld, Joe, Mary, Jesus and Mavis Goats wait patiently for the resurrection of Isaac, who is expected to rise from his beautiful marble grave any day now. Botched prophesies, religious confusion, wacky characters ... there is surely nothing NOT to love about this wonderful new play called Help A Handicapped God...Trot Across The Universe. Written by Thomas Walters, this spanking new theological fantasy is now in performances at the historic 13th Street Repertory Theater and already has audiences raving.
Directed by Joe John Battista and presented by Two Tough Broads Productions (Roslyn McKay and Wendy Tonken), Walters' play is masterfully transposed onto the stage by a very talented cast and crew. His is a play that must have been quite a challenging read at first - I mean, how do you go about visualizing a family that teeters on the line between the living and the dead, but still manages to appear somewhat normal? Mind you, dysfunctional is still a type of normal. And then, to make the plot as seemingly "matter of fact" as a Sunday afternoon, have a colorful bunch of characters waltz on and off-stage in an effort to make themselves (and their involvement in Isaac Goat's resurrection) known. It is a collision of contradictions and expectations that makes the audience ponder (but not too much, or it will kill the mood): what in God's good name is going on?
In a nutshell, the Goats family awaits the resurrection of dear Grandpa Isaac, who has recently passed on to the world beyond. While Joe directs his agitation at his family at the TV set, Mary is a bundle of nerves who begins the show with the most satisfying scream to release everything and anything that could ever stress a person out. Jesus is quite active in the nearby bedroom and Mavis watches it all unfold with carefree amusement. As the family less-than-enthusiastically waits for Isaac to rise (at a time even the Cambridge-bound Jesus is unable to pinpoint), the Goats family is joined by characters who have personalities as big as their names. Dr. Sedgley Wonderstone-Corbett (a good doctor when she's sober) dances her way across the stage, while Tommy Boon is reminiscent of a 1980's deliveryman who has quite the large wooden cross to bear. Help A Handicapped God is an intriguing combination of the ludicrous and belief - with elements of reality mixed in with speculation, to the point where the audience questions if there is anything in this life to look forward to - to expect - if everything is just a little too uncertain to be completely believed.
Walters has quite the beauty of a show here, and even though it is best not to ponder what it all means too much, Help A Handicapped God is definitely more than the wacky characters that grace the stage. The trick is to let this riveting play seep into your psyche and simply allow the experience to transport you to the Goat's world: a world where Joe, Mary, Jesus and Mavis are comfortably situated in this comedic existentialism, if only briefly lived. Where the separation of life and death takes a hiatus and gives off this almost cosmic quality of stillness - of waiting for something to happen with little anticipation, but enough to keep the fire building. In some odd way, Walters has captured this idea of the "handicapped god" as someone that is essentially, and with these characters and their transition from life to death, do we perhaps see ourselves?
The play can be a commentary on religion, on a lack of expectation as the play moves towards its end and all we look forward to the afterlife is really just an anticlimactic continuation of the life we lived with no happy (and understandable) ending. Walters is quite clever in this rendition of the afterlife, where there is nothing to anticipate except what you already see before you. No matter which way you look at it, Walters' show is packed with laughs as well as significance, and I highly doubt audiences will find little fault in the work that Battista (along with a brilliant cast and crew) now brings to the 13th Street Repertory Theater.
Kudos to all those who brought this story to life (or death - whichever). Everett Quinton, Zoe Anastassiou, Daniel Yaiullo, Meredith Nicholaev, Vilma Hodo, Thami Moscovici, Tony Del Bono, Harry Bainbridge, Paige Anderson, Nicholas Munson and John Constantine are truly amazing in their respective roles. Joining them behind the scenes are Wendy Tonken (Costumer), Allison Hohman (Lighting/Sound Designer and Stage Manager), John Constantine (Stage Manager), Everett Clark (Production Assistant) and Marsh Shugart (Production Assistant).
Help A Handicapped God...Trot Across The Universe began performances at the 13th Street Repertory Theater (located at 50 West 13th Street) on January 16th, and will continue thru January 26th. Tickets are $20/$15 students and seniors (general seating) and can be purchased by visiting http://13thstreetrep.org. Performances are held Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 pm and Sunday at 4:00 pm.
Enjoy the show!