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|A CurtainUp Review
Suburban Motel-Part 3--Risk Everything
By David Lipfert
George F. Walker's Suburban Motel series with interlocking characters seems ripe for cult status among frequent theater goers. All of the eventual six parts of the series take place in the same ground-level motel room. Rather than making for a seedy backdrop, Van Santvoord's set provides a neutral space or even a refuge for a succession of lower class types just trying to get by any way they can. A double bed, a table and a few chairs and the requisite TV symbolize the reductive world of these characters; decor is limited to a sentimental view of the Grand Canal in Venice-a surreal reminder of the world beyond.
Currently on view at Theatre Off Park is Part 3, Risk Everything. The title alludes to the gambling addiction of Carol, the mother of Denise who has already made an appearance in Part 1, Problem Child. Denise and husband RJ are far too occupied with Carol's dilemma to focus on trying to get back their baby from foster care (covered in Part 1: Problem Child). As we gradually learn, Carol is trying to hold on to money that she "borrowed" from a gangster associate to make a bet at the track. Luckily she won, but now has to repay the loan plus the winnings. At her hideout motel room together with Denise and RJ, she at first denies her involvement in the affair but then grudgingly acknowledges her responsibility. Carol is having a hard time holding on to her hope for brighter future she thinks the money will bring, and Denise is in no mood to let her enjoy any delusions. In a role reversal, Denise assumes the dominant (masculine) role as she tries to coerce her mother to come clean in the affair.
Denise has her own problems with husband RJ: since his release from prison, the most constant factor in his life has been his love for television. To Denise's great annoyance, he spends his free time glued to the set. He has seen every nature show at least twice and waxes eloquent when he recites all the twists and turns of each episode. Lions and tigers are his favorites; at least the animals never disappoint him, unlike the people around him.
The one positive thing that happens to Carol is meeting Michael, who is filming a porn flick in an adjacent room at the motel. The two waste no time getting to know each other. When Denise finds them in bed the next morning, she explodes in anger over her mother's behavior. Michael at first seems out of place, but soon fits right in, taken in by Carol's crass charm and easy sexuality. With a regular job and standard emotional responses, he seems almost normal. He, too, is not indifferent to Carol's irrepressible hope.
While trying any way possible to hold on to the money, Carol puts both RJ and Michael in mortal danger. Succumbing to Carol's taunting about his play-it-safe approach to life, RJ visits the gangsters in an effort to free Carol from her predicament. He returns with an ultimatum that gives Denise enough ammunition to take the upper hand. Carol then sends Michael to try to mollify the situation, but he likewise gets more involved than he expected. A surprise development gives Risk Everything some tense moments of suspense. A flurry of last-minute phone calls and Carol's return to reason puts the men out of harm's way. On to the next episode.
Carol is a compulsive liar, yet we want to believe her. We want to believe everyone, but in Daniel De Raey's direction, they awaken our sympathy without completely engaging us. He frequently de-emphasizes Walker's subtly sardonic humor, transforming it into something broader and simpler. Perhaps this is a function of the actors' rapid-fire delivery that leaves no space for the audience to savor the ironic side to these pitiable people's predicaments. As a result of the nearly continuous fever pitch of emotions, Risk Everything has something of a monotone emotional quality.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this play derives from the psychology of the characters and their interrelation. All are tied to each other: each time one seeks to exit from his mess, the others pull him back down with a barrage of negativity. While the author seems to be tormented by their desperateness, he offers no alternatives to their world of physical violence and addiction not to overlook the tamer vices such as greed, lust and deceit.
Tasha Lawrence as daughter Denise and Patricia Mauceri as mother Carol are believable in their rantings and ravings. Christopher Burns as RJ provides some needed amusement in his monologue about TV nature programs. The most interesting of the performers, Christopher Hurt as Michael, is the best equipped to extract the wry sense of humor in the multi-layered text.
The play is performed in four scenes without intermission. Running time is about 75 minutes. The world premier of Parts 4-6 scheduled for the fall may feature a reprise the earlier installments.