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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
What starts out as a celebratory family dinner for Art "Crazy Train" Sligo (Guy Boyd), the midwestern all-star wrestling legend about to be honored at his last wrestling match, quickly unfurls plenty of tension in the family dynamic. The retiring wrestler takes little pride in his wrestling career, and, in fact, wishes he'd remained a shoe salesman. His son Kyle (Michael Chernus) is an overweight, underachiever. Victor (Paul Sparks), his other son, is a drug addicted, self-destructive diabetic and ex-jailbird. The three strangers who help trigger the chaotic potential of this dinner party include Bobby Bibby (Matthew Stadelmanm), an Idaho teenager who won the sweepstake for a bus ride to Ohio and dinner with the retiring wrestler, single mom Lucy (Emily Cass McDonnell) and teen aged Cammie (Megan Mostyn-Brown). All three should have their heads examined— Bobby for spending $1200 on magazines containing the sweepstakes form; Lucy and Cammie for dating the Sligo brothers.
The decor is bad taste Americana: wood paneled walls, lots of flag waving images, a shelf of Hummel figures. Art, with his flabby wrestler's body and weird wrestler's get up, seems extraordinarily glum but harmless. The live-at-home son Kyle radiates hostility but also shows no sign of violence. The woman of the house, Aunt Polly (Marylouise Burke) is a compulsive chatterer who has apparently taken over (or, to be more exact, tried) as family cook and nurturer since her sister's death. The visiting sweepstake winner personifies awkard awe, but not much else in the way of character depth.
There are hints of tension every time the dead Mrs. Sligo is mentioned. The place she occupied at the family table is pointedly occupied by a bench with a bouquet of long-stemmed flowers. However, initially, and largely owing to Marylouise Burke's deliciously ditzy but painfully lonely Aunt Bobby, this almost works as a bizarre comic profile of an oddball family in the American heartland. It takes the arrival of the coke sniffing Victor for the really dark undercurrents to errupt and the weird humor to take a more violent turn — as well as for any message Rapp is trying to convey to turn into a meaningless mess which includes the puking and pissing elements for which he has a special liking.
Even the messy, huh what the point of all this? part of the play has its watchability quotient, thanks to Paul Sparks, an actor who's been one of Rapp's outstanding interpreters. While the American Diabetes Association is unlikely to ever make Sparks their poster child, his ability to be simultaneously funny, menacing and pitiable is quite remarkable.
I'll leave it to readers to discover the details of the events that turn the Sligo dinner into a disaster. However, even if I were inclined to venture an opinion as to what it all means, I'd be stumped to come up with anything conclusive. Happy families may all be alike, but unhappy families have enough shapes and problems to keep prolific playwrights going? Even if we're not professional wrestlers, we all have to wrestle with anger, loneliness and despair? The Sligos were created to symbolize the falseness of the apple-pie, flag draped normalcy American home? They also exemplify how a family's penchant for eccentricity tends to be exacerbated by any upset to the apple-pie sameness of mid-American existence (like Art's leaving the safety of a shoe salesman's job for the dubious glory of pro wrestling and the death of the mother). Maybe what happens is also a warning not to count out the lethargic types when it comes to anticipating violent behavior?
Rapp devotees (and there are quite a lot of them) are sure to find much to enjoy in this latest blend of offbeat humor and horror. But even the most devoted fans of his growing ouevre will have to admit that nothing that happens is more than an exercise in Rapp-ism than a play that makes much sense.
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