We fucked it up good and proper and the world is one endless Sahara, a sandbox thinly populated by handfuls of sunburned, dehydrated and wary human beings who maintain a veneer of chipper, hard-working optimism. Technology has survived, supplemented by the gradual re-emergence of good old know-how, at least enough to facilitate the building of "sand ships"-Mad Maxian rattletraps reserved for heroic exploratory journeys to the outlands every few generations, ***image1***ostensibly in search of lebensraum. Society is a strange, vaguely familiar blend of rugged individualism and Big Brother authoritarian socialism.
One tribute to Theater Grottesco's WENOMADMEN is that the social structure and attitude of the people in its richly imagined possible future immediately become apparent and real. The opening scenes convey through sparse dialogue and finely tuned gesture and action, the entire milieu. Before one can say "it's a shame the United States won't sign the Kyoto accord," multiple layers of particulars and generalities about this desiccated, thoroughly transformed, sere and tenuous future world are revealed. When the runner, played convincingly by Danielle Reddick, gets both legs broken in an accident and desperately tries to pretend she isn't hurt, she is cursorily "examined" and killed by medics, whose sole job seems to be to cull the injured as quickly as possible. Her ruddy-faced companions balance their desire to save her with their fear of being judged a "casualty by association," which one assumes carries the same penalty.
Another tribute to this entirely seamless and engaging work of original theater is how regularly it flirts with clichés of the genre without falling flat in either imitation or gimmickry. There are echoes and hints in the story-written skillfully by director Elizabeth Wiseman in collaboration with John Flax and Kent Kirkpatrick-of Dune; of the spooky yet cornball atmospheres of a Twilight Zone or Star Trek episode; of Orwell and Huxley; as well as existentialist survival stories in general, from The Poseidon Adventure to The Breakfast Club. Overtones of Beckett and so-called absurdist theater blend as if by magic. There's the ***image2***swaggering authoritarian hardass from the government, Taylor, captured with expanding dimensionality by Scott Harrison; the "fugitive," a mysterious outsider, performed by Rod Harrison with his usual panache, running from the clutches of the government; the stoic, Scotty-like shipmaster Mileva, portrayed laconically, yet with fierce gestural presence, by Mona Malec; the perky, hilariously daft know-it-all student, captured by Aimee Lasseigne with rare incandescence.
A work that attempts realism in a fantastical future setting can't show many seams in its imagined staging, without risking clunky thuds and sputters. WENOMADMEN creates a world we get to remain in for the duration of the performance, with nothing jarring or out of place. This consistency is partly a result of the dedication to craft on the part of the performers and the focused, entirely present and aware physicality of the troupe.
Every other aspect of this rare gem is exquisitely crafted: the set design and artistic direction (Deborah Dennison and John Flax); costumes, remarkable lighting (Skip Rapoport); the sound design and stunning, perfectly complementary original music by J A Deane and the Out of Context ensemble, available for sale at the show.
Theater Grottesco has once again almost single-handedly rescued local theater. The group is like a sand ship, periodically sending out recon in search of signs of life. The 50 or so intrepid explorers huddled in their seats in the cavernous expanse of the theater on a Saturday night, one hopes, are out in our town, evangelizing Grottesco's latest triumph fervidly.