Battery/The Convalescence of Marge, The Last Bridge, and Buried Mom | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Battery/The Convalescence of Marge, The Last Bridge, and Buried Mom 

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BATTERY

Tight & Shiny Theatre Productions
at Greenview Arts Center

Rip worships power--both the kind that runs machines and the kind that allows him to dominate Brandy, his girlfriend, and Stan, his apprentice at the repair shop. But Stan's brain has a few short circuits, and when it becomes dangerously malfunctional, Rip turns to omnipotent electricity for a cure--forgetting that it was lightning that gave birth to Frankenstein's monster.

Daniel Therriault's Battery (described as an "electric love story") is not simply another gothic parable, however. The hubris reflected in Rip's boast that he "controls electricity" is genuine enough, but his foray into do-it-yourself electroconvulsive therapy is motivated as much by a wish to heal his partner the way he mends broken lamps and toasters as by any selfish desire to prove himself master of the universe. "Modern exorcism," he insists. "To extract what the ancients perceived as the devil. . . . I never take anything in. I always fix it myself." But as every father discovers, the creation of new life must change the status quo: Stan's new, improved intelligence means the possibility of growth and the seeds of ambition--an ambition that proves infectious.

Therriault's dense script reveals threads of the Oedipus, Pygmalion, and Creation myths as well as moments reminiscent of Flowers for Algernon, David and Lisa, and Of Mice and Men. Under the direction of Eric Wegener, this superlative cast--Tim Sullens as Rip, Carri Sullens as Brandy, and Brett A. Snodgrass as Stan take their time navigating Therriault's metaphors. In turn their precise, coherent performances enhance his amazing language, which sparks and crackles as brilliantly as an electrical current. "You just missed your train of thought," one character says to another, who replies, "My train's on detour. Several tracks run through my mind." What would ordinarily be expressed as "Wait a minute" is here "Adjust your idle," "Put it in park," or "Headlights off and pull the emergency." Automotive argot has been used before to describe sex, but the extended analogies Therriault constructs go well beyond their Anthony Burgess origins and David Mamet rhythms: this is a display of verbal virtuosity unheard since Sam Shepard provided our American vernacular with a whole new vocabulary in Tooth of Crime. "I got new treads on my tires. I'll jack you up and spin your wheels," Stan says in imitation of Rip's flirtatious banter, to which Brandy replies, "You're a stalled Studebaker--a fresh lemon slipping sour from the factory track. Some punk poured sand in your fuel tank."

Tight & Shiny Theater Productions have a reputation for meticulously crafted work--unlike many other young companies, which rely more on energy and emotion than on intelligence. Though it's still early in the year, Battery promises to be one of the small, bright lights of 1994.

THE CONVALESCENCE OF MARGE, THE LAST BRIDGE, and BURIED MOM

Griffin Theatre Company

Battery may be tough on fatherhood, but Melissa Martin's three one-acts, which inaugurate Griffin Theatre's late-night series, offer the most compelling arguments for matricide since Electra offed her mum.

In The Last Bridge, a mousy spinster on the verge of liberating herself from the tyranny of her hypercritical mother and her equally tiresome bridge partners decides that another evening of psychological abuse is preferable to a date with an Elvis impersonator. (His entrance is heralded by so much fanfare that for a moment we think it is old swivel-hips, returned from the dead to spirit the lonely girl away--but that would make the story too interesting.) The title character of The Convalescence of Marge is visited in the hospital by the light of her life, who's come to propose marriage--until the invalid's mother proceeds to discuss in embarrassing detail the nature of Marge's affliction. Buried Mom recounts the confused thoughts of a young woman with a bun in the oven and too many cooks--her mother insisting that ignorance is best, a quasi Lamaze instructor preaching transcendence by means of denial, and two peers with horrific labor stories.

These three plays are too long to be blackout scenes, too short to be sketches, and too underwritten to be funny. The characters are little more than cartoon compendiums, their actions are incomprehensibly idiotic, and the humor is almost wholly predicated on the nauseatingly detailed description of bodily functions (though Martin is surprisingly prissy about naming these, using such cutesy euphemisms as "poopsies" and "butterflies" though she freely employs such clinical terms as "vagina" and "vulva" in double entendres). The plays have been staged by three different directors, according to the run-in-circles-and-scream school of comic acting.

Griffin Theatre is to be commended for adding a late-night series to its schedule, but one hopes the next selection will be better.

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