Jake Beamer, Scot Atkinson, Melissa Kenney Shepherd, and Amy Steiger in Mad Gravity.
By William Missouri Downs
Directed by Scot Atkinson
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2015 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved
We should feel grateful that The Bard’s Town seems to have a thing for William Missouri Downs. Just less than a year after their production of his fascinating The Exit Interview, director Scot Atkinson brings the riotously funny Mad Gravity to life on the intimate upstairs stage.
The simple premise seems to suggest the most ordinary of situation comedy scenarios: two sets of parents are meeting each other for the first time as their young son and daughter are set to marry. The contrast between the couples is sharply drawn: Archie (director Atkinson doing double duty) is a performance artist living on unemployment. His wife Eudora (Amy Steiger) is a free-spirit and a perfect fit to Archie’s eccentricity, and their daughter Dakota (Casandre Medel) did not fall far from tree. Her boyfriend’s parents, dentist Dr. Joe (Jake Beamer) and Mary (Melissa Kenney Shepherd) are staid, middle-class, and determinedly ordinary.
As they enter Archie and Eudora’s home, they, and we, discover something astonishing: there is an audience in the living room and we are they. From this point on the play becomes increasingly manic, as the clash of sensibilities among the characters is joined by the absurdly sudden threat of a meteor the size of New York colliding with the earth. By the end of the lengthy and fairly resolved first act, civil behavior is abandoned, replaced by outrageous desperation and physical confrontations delivered with startling brutality in Jake Beamer’s fight choreography.
The less said about the extremely brief second act the better, so unorthodox and convention defying, yet hilarious, is the action contained therein. It is the perfect satirical denouement to what has come before.
Mad Gravity is perfectly cast. Scot Atkinson drew healthy laughter simply by entering the stage dressed in knee-length shorts and sporting a closely cropped head with a superciliously groomed beard. His physique also seemed to be tighter and more compact than in previous appearances, and whether this is the result of a renewed interest in personal fitness or a DeNiro-like devotion to his craft, it was just right. Amy Steiger’s performance was also characterized by a very specific physicality, but the fleet-footed timing and fluid comic energy help place Eudora among her very best work.
Jake Beamer’s Dr. Joe had no such exterior profile with which to make an impression, but he and Melissa Kenney Shepherd as Mary are given the task of illuminating most of the absurdist devices in the piece, and perhaps serve as something of a bridge for the audience in playing average people encountering unexpectedly strange and extraordinary circumstances. Mr. Beamer’s marvelously fierce knack for farce is one of the secret weapons of The Bard’s Town’s loose company of players, and he shines here as always. Ms. Shepherd’s portrait of a pious, uptight woman confronted with many of her worst fears is right on target. Casandre Medel has far less to do as Dakota, but fits in perfectly to this ensemble with a memorable opening monologue/curtain speech that provides important clues to the succeeding action.
The production is exceptionally well realized, with a set filled by a range of vivid and colorful paintings, and appropriately expressive and occasionally edgy costumes. The device of “casting” the audience as a sixth character means the play relies heavily on their reaction, which, on opening night at least was right on the money.
Downs is playing clever, agile games with reality, perception and identity here. This play is a highly elastic exercise in irony and self-awareness of from that put me in mind of The Stunt Man, and perhaps I’m a sucker for this stuff, but Mad Gravity is inspired satire and one of the best times you’re likely to have in a theatre this month.
April 16-19, 23-26, 2015 @7:30 PM
Advanced Tickets: $16 General / $14 Seniors / $12 Students Tickets at the door are $18/16/14, respectively
The Bard’s Town
1801 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40205
[box_light]Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at the Louisville Visual Art Association during the days, including being one of the hosts of PUBLIC on ARTxFM, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.[/box_light]