Robert Thompson, Helen Magnolia Hensley, & Eric Steven Sharp in rehearsal. Photo: Derby City Playwrights
By David Clark
Directed by Sabrina Spalding
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2019 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
David Clark’s gods play wants desperately to be a movie, and it could very well be adapted as such with little difficulty. A heady mash-up of the visceral and intellectual, Clark imagines a playwright so full of himself that he declares that not even God could write a play better than his latest work. But it doesn’t pay to challenge the creator.
Christopher Pentheus (Robert Thompson) has just finished a play; the first since the death of his wife, but his hubris has earned the wrath of a supreme being represented by a disembodied woman’s voice (Terri Carlson). A fiery plane crash begins a series of action set pieces that are staged by a pair of Chorus (Helen Magnolia Hensley and Eric Steven Sharp) who narrate the story in language clearly modeled on screenplays but also enact much of the strenuous activity to often-hilarious effect.
All of this is framed by a very straightforward delineation of theatrical artifice that cannily uses the predictability of action film plot structure to satirize both Hollywood’s popular entertainment and more esoteric artistic enterprise. That inevitability means the audience cannot mistake the thematic intention of Clark’s play, even while he begins to swim in deeper, waters.
The equity with action cinema also demands a certain lack of subtlety in exploring the conflict between illusion and reality, which results in an abundance of entertaining slapstick humor played with great energy and expertise by Ms. Hensley and Mr. Sharp. They are, quite simply, a riot. Hensley triumphs particularly as an assistant to “Jerry”, a hugely successful Hollywood producer who will not take no for an answer and is based on a real-life figure who is known to spend time in Kentucky.
Mr. Thompson solidly occupies the center as Pentheus, lending a charismatic presence to an appropriately underdeveloped role – Clark again aping the conventions of the genre with his reactive protagonist, and director Sabrina Spalding stages at a dizzying pace that still allows room for small and detailed gestures and asides. The performances are filled with wit and invention.
If I can say little about Terri Carlson’s estimable contribution, it is only in the interest of avoiding spoilers. Clark’s intelligent and carefully calculated examination of action cinema is bold and succinct parody, but he is also digging into both the role of the artist in society and their responsibility to that society, raising questions about identity and the integrity of authorship and to what degree an artist can control their work in the face of the overwhelmingly commercial popular culture. These themes run beautifully through the play as underlying currents, and it is only in the final scenes that the play stumbles a bit with an extended intellectual discourse that feels counterintuitive to what has come before. Or perhaps Clark is recognizing how consistently action cinema is underrated for its ability to communicate complex ideas while blowing things up. Illusion versus reality might not the only duality being deconstructed in gods play.
July 12 @ 7:30pm
July 18 @ 7:30pm
July 28 @ 8:00pm
Part of the 2nd Derby City Playwrights New Play Festival
For a full schedule of all seven plays, visit: derbycityplaywrights.org
Advanced Tickets: $18 / At the door: $20
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, 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.