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Behold! -- an epic comedy

But if you were gone, who would I spoon with?
---A Hotel Attendant

Hugh Owen and Shane Wallis
H. Owen and S. Wallis
(Photo: Chris Mataloni)
What do you do with those moments in life which are oddly coincidental? The parking spot that appears just as you were thinking about it? Running into an old friend you haven't seen in a year, but thought about only hours before bumping into them at the gym? And they're not even a member of your gym's chain.

If you're a character in James Hesla's charming Behold!, then you take notice and begin looking for more strange coincidences in your life. Then you start noticing bigger coincidences in the world at large. And then you start having some wonderful adventures that take you on wild journeys that bring a vibrancy to your life that you hadn't realized it could have.

Rorschach Theatre brings Mr. Hesla's madcap "epic comedy" to life in their multi-faceted Sanctuary Theatre space. It's a lively, funny jaunt in the nature of It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World as a Sideshow Barker, a Laundromat Attendant, a Sea Captain, a self-proclaimed Woman of Mystery, a pair of Hotel Bellhops, a Waitress, and a Husband and Wife on Holiday chase after Anna Tingle's box.

And who was Anna Tingle? A self-described Madonna of the Second Coming or lonely insane woman -- it's up to the viewer to decide. Anna disappeared during her long, unexplained pregnancy and thus never confirmed that her child was the next son or daughter of God. In her place, she left behind her "Box of Prophecy," which was decorated with the following poem:

"Mexican vestments do I falsify,
I'll reveal the mystery,
meet me at Cortez Sea,
on the 29th of February."

And if the box is opened on the leap year? Then great prosperity will come to the opener.

And with that bit of info...step right up and buy your ticket, because the great race is about to begin!

Director Randy Baker and his design team transport us back to the feel good days of Route 66 with an actual bit of highway down the middle of the staging area. Signifying the unknown roads yet to be traveled, this highway has all the sideshow attractions, dilapidated motels, "snak" shops, and carefree oddities of the original. 60's beach music adds to the feel and beat of the production as crab men, Siamese twins and 18" penises offer themselves up for our guilty viewing pleasure and mesmerized gullibility. Mr. Baker keeps the pace fast, even with constant scenic changes, and the jokes are delivered to draw the audience into the play's theatre-in-the-round proceedings. Don't be surprised to be offered a cocktail or handed a walking stick at some point.

Sara Nelson's circus ring-like set goes through an interesting change during the intermission which creates something entirely new in the new seating arrangement. For the second act, the midway takes on a raceway feel where the road opens up and leads right into the Sea of Cortez.

Lighting Designer Raquel Davis utilizes blue-greens and oranges throughout the staging area, which creates a warm carnival feeling under the big top of the vaulted cathedral ceilings of the space. Yvette M. Ryan's costumes keep everyone in character. You know what the bellhops do as soon as they walk on stage. The Sideshow Barker's cowboy outfit goes with his Texas accent and his propensity to point his fingers at people and click his tongue. The vacationers are wearing sunblock and swimsuits. The Woman of Mystery is dressed in a black evening gown complete with seven inch heels.

The play's ensemble of characters are just that -- characters. People on the fringe of life, looking for something that will add a spark of excitement to their existences and maybe a bit of fame, fortune or at least fifteen minutes of notoriety.

Among these, Cecil E. Baldwin's Radio Show Persona a.k.a. The Mexican Bishop is alternately spooky and sexy as he plies his listeners with daily doses of macabre conspiracy theories and unexplained "facts." Although only on stage a fraction of the time, each time he enters the pandemonium he pulls our attention to him with his intense delivery.

Grady Weatherford's Laundromat Attendant is a gem of a portrayal. A man who enjoys the boredom and isolation of the laundromat where he works, he rhapsodizes over how his keeping some small object found in a shirt pocket has created huge change in a distant country's economic system. His precise delivery makes every line a comedic moment and gives the impression of a quirky, odd fellow who quite possibly could be the lone survivor of a strange shipwreck.

As our narrator, The Sideshow Proprietor, Tim Getman is an oily con artist. More importantly, when he finally decides to change his ways, it comes across as fairly believable. Although you imagine he will probably slip up a few times and cause himself more angst than happiness. As his potential love interest, The Waitress, Elizabeth Chomko brings the seemingly most level headed character alive with a straightforward delivery that also holds some hint of inner quirkiness. Unfortunately, the chemistry that thrives when they are bickering doesn't translate when they approach a truce. Which perhaps may not be their fault, since the whole dynamic seems to be tossed in by the playwright to add one more bit of coincidence to the script.

The chemistry between the two ambiguously gay hotel attendants, Hugh T. Owen and Shane Wallis never lags. Always on stage together, they have a Laurel and Hardy kind of repartee that is infectiously funny. Their interest in famed bank robber John Dillinger's supposedly humongous penis is equaled only by their intent interest in the bottles of whiskey that are always by their sides.

Andrew Brownstein's stick-in-the-mud Vacationer truly appears to have met his match in his formerly bored, now revitalized, desperate housewife Doris (played by Jenny Morris). Tired of their same old, same old; she discovers a chain letter in a floating bottle and demands a relocation to the Sea of Cortez instead of enduring brunch with their boring friends one more time. Each seems to be having a good time in their roles as unexpected explorers.

Kerri Rambow plays self-proclaimed Woman of Mystery and part-time psychic, Angosta Raya, with a self-mocking flair. Appearing and disappearing throughout the play, she gives an air of danger and violence. As her unlucky henchman, The Sea Captain, Jason Linkins gives a humorous turn as a sailor of questionable character and moral turpitude who has lost at least two ships he has been commanding.

The biggest drawback to the whole production is the lack of air conditioning in the Sanctuary Theatre space. During the current heat wave, this is unfortunate. However, it also has the unexpected result of making the audience feel like it may very well be on that beach by the Sea of Cortez or in a little town in Arizona heading down Mexico way. Not terribly comfortable, but then adventures seldom are...

A word (or five) of wisdom -- listen carefully and be observant. Mr. Hesla's script is about coincidence and the inter-connectedness of the universe and life. Thus, casual comments made in the beginning resurface later in the play. The gold nose is given to a certain person because -- that person is right there under his nose. The iron wood hand attacks a particular individual and no one else. Birthdays on February 29th, anagram names, ships named The Lucky Star -- it's all in good fun. The more you are consciously aware of the proceedings, the more humor you will find. And who knows, you may even be persuaded to set sail on your own quest for a Box of Prophecy.

Behold! -- an epic comedy
by James Hesla
Directed by Randy Baker
with Cecil E. Baldwin, Andrew Brownstein, Elizabeth Chomko, Tim Getman, Jason Linkins, Hugh T. Owen, Jenny Morris, Kerri Rambow, Shane Wallis, and Grady Weatherford
Set Design: Sara Nelson
Costume Design: Yvette M. Ryan
Lighting Design: Raquel Davis
Sound Design: Matthew Frederick
Fight Choreography: Grady Weatherford
Running Time: 2 hours 10 minutes with 1 intermission
A production of Rorschach Theatre
The Sanctuary Theatre, Calvary Methodist Church, 1459 Columbia Road
Telephone: tickets 1-800-494-8497; info 202-452-5538
THUR-SAT @8, SAT @5; $12-$18
Opening 05/31/05 closing 06/26/05
Reviewed by Rich See based on 06/09/05 performance
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