Thursday, October 8, 2009

Helter Skelter and The New Testament by Neil LaBute

Helter Skelter and The New Testament by Neil LaBute

By Joe Straw

The end of Neil LaBute’s Helter Skelter is so shocking the entire audience either screamed or jumped out of their seats. Some did both. When the lights came up the audience members sat silently, composed themselves and left the theatre in a state of shock. More on this play later.

The Open Fist Theatre had the world premier of Neil LaBute's wonderful one act plays: The New Testament directed by Bjorn Johnson and Helter Skelter directed by Neil LaBute.

The New Testament is a comedy about the difficulty of producing theatre. On top of that the writer has discovered the wrong man has been cast as Jesus Christ.

The producer Jerry (Benjamin Burdick) and the writer Steve (Tim Banning) have come to fire an actor Lloyd (Peter James Smith) already under contract. The problem is that Lloyd is Chinese and the writer Steve would like to have just a touch of reality to this play and he doesn’t believe “Mr. Fuji Hama Kurosawa” with his “golden rickshaw” fits the bill.

The play is filled with racial slurs, derogatory comments and it is also very funny. In a politically correct world LaBute, a master craftsman, throws the words out of the characters mouth and has us squirming in our seats every moment of this play. It is an endless conflicting racial battle between the characters on stage as well as a conflicting delight with audience members.

The actors are brilliant in their performances. From the moment we see them to the moment they leave the stage.

Banning as the writer pushes every button imaginable to get Lloyd out of the play including offering him the role of Judas. When that doesn’t work he accuses him of being gay. (Whoever heard of a gay Chinese Jesus? I mean really.)

Smith holds his own as Lloyd. At one point Lloyd almost convinces me that he could play Jesus. But Smith has more under his conical straw hat than one would imagine, coming out on top in the end.

Burdick as Jerry (the producer) manages to side with whomever soot’s his fancy. He is a true producer who manages not to alienate anyone to benefit his future endeavors. And besides he wants to get the play produced.

Although, the performances were this side of perfection, more could have been made out of the relationship between the actor and the producer. It’s not enough for Jerry to promise Lloyd a role in his next production Flower Drum Song. (Well, then again, maybe it is.)

Helter Skelter, written and directed by Neil LaBute, is a story about a husband (Ron Eldard) and wife (Kate Beahan) who meet in a nice restaurant for coffee during a mad Christmas rush.

She is late in the third term of pregnancy and their marriage is moments from falling apart. That moment is highlighted by her husband’s refusal to let her use his phone. Moments later the man confesses to having an affair.

These two people are two bright middle-aged intelligent people whose marriage has probably run its course. They are incapable of speaking to each other and when they do they don’t have a clue what the other person is talking about.

The play fills you in on their intimate lives and gives you a false of security that in the end differences may be settled and may work out. But in that moment of security all hell breaks loose forever altering their relationship forever.

Eldard as the husband gives a very nice performance of a man who doesn’t have a clue. Beahan as the wife give a rich multi-layered performance.

Helter Skelter is mind blowing. It is subtle. It is a lovely dream that turns into a nightmare of epic proportions. LaBute's script makes you hunger for the next word and then he serves it to you on a bloody platter.

The set of a nice restaurant is minimal but satisfying. Like a nice restaurant that have small portions but the food is great.

The Open Fist Theatre Company is in the middle of an eight-week festival of plays and music.

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