BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
|A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
By Laura Hitchcock
When he scheduled Mayhem at The Evidence Room, director Bart DeLorenzo had no idea what a synchronicitous occasion it would be. The audience reeled away from television's 24/7 coverage of the invasion of Iraq into Kelly Stuart's fascinating, blistering, luridly funny coverage of international and domestic conflicts.
The time is August, 2000, one month before 9/11. There's genocide in Africa. The Taliban reigns in Afghanistan and oppresses its women. Riots clog the streets around the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. And down the hill in Chinatown a young couple with a baby form their own battlefield.
Susan (Megan Mullally) knows nothing about politics and cares less. It's about getting out of the house when she lets herself be bullied into attending a convention on Art and Genocide by shrill insistent Claire (Cheryl White), who fills the caves and pitfalls in her life with political activism. Susan's husband David (Nick Offerman), a recovering alcoholic, despises Claire and insults Susan. "When you get sad, you get cruel," she retorts. She's ripe for the attentions of fierce foreign correspondent Wesley (Jason Adams), who is fascinated by her tale of witnessing a shooting in her neighborhood.
As he drives her home, the play cuts back and forth between Wesley and Susan in the car to a disappointed Claire in a bar, bitterly bolstering up her self-worth with Martinis. Wesley gives Susan a camera that belonged to his late friend, photographer Kevin Carter, who committed suicide shortly after winning a Pulitzer for his devastating battlefield pictures. Over dinner David accuses Wesley of trying to make love to Susan. Though Wesley insists he gave her the camera because of the clarity of her vision, David's guess is pretty much on target. Susan and Wesley are lovers and he wants her to come with him to Afghanistan but Claire conceals this. Whether she does it out of desire for Wesley, principles or wanting to keep Susan around is irrelevant. It's a Claire thing.
Stuart's play is rich in material, so much so that it comes painfully close to tales simply aching to be told. The Kevin Carter story, which is true, could be a sub-plot in itself but doesn't seem to have much relevance to the characters until the final scene when David breaks down and admits he's been doing drugs for six months and Susan hasn't noticed. Susan's suspicions about David's whereabouts the night of the shooting point in yet another direction.
Director Bart DeLorenzo manages to keep all these threads taut, raising the short scenes to edge-of-the-seat suspense, and giving the characters every chance to display Stuart's nuances and humor. One of the play's funniest scenes shows the women putting on burkhas and trying to sip coffee beneath them.
Mullally is the play's true center as Susan, in a crystalline performance of great simplicity and honesty. She's balanced by White's Claire, a bothersome character, an aspiring heart, duplicitous, and maddening as a mosquito's whine. She does comic relief with impeccable delicacy. Offerman's David is early Ernest Borgnine with more smarts and sophistication. Stuart gives him a love scene with Susan in which he has to meow like a pussycat and Offerman runs with it, giving a whole new dimension to David and where this love began. Adams' Wesley is reckless and bitter, a man who sleeps with danger.
Martin McClendon's tiny clever set has a real sense of the shabby poverty of Susan's world. Last but far from least are Adam Kurtzman's unique amazing puppets. Only one of many elements in "Mayhem" of which you want to see more -- lots more.
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.