Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Bewildered Herd by Cody Henderson

L to R Trace Turville, John Getz

By Joe Straw

“Have you come here for forgiveness?
Have you come to raise the dead?
Have you come here to play Jesus?
To the lepers in your head” – One by U2

On the set of The Bewildered Herd, there is a disorienting image upstage right.  It is a photograph by David Wojnarowicz, “Untitled (buffalo)”.  In this art piece, the buffalo appear to be jumping over a cliff, and the buffalo do it for a reason: they are bewildered.  

This perplexing art sets the mood for the dramatic and wonderful world premier of The Bewildered Herd, written by Cody Henderson and directed by Laurie Woolery at the Greenway Theatre. This as an amazing night of theatre, punctuated by head spinning dramatic action, and the birth of a very sinister character, Bingo.   This is definitively one theatrical event not to miss. It is, in short, remarkable work and an amazing accomplishment that masterfully digs deep into the art of persuasion.  

Also The Bewildered Herd is both a deeply troubling and fascinating look at the power of misdirection, persuasion, and tactical decisions that people make in order to destroy a life deemed as not suitable.    

From the moment the play starts, we as audience members are led astray. Everything is not bona fides. From the opening moment, we are bewildered and challenged to accept the information provided until the truth is proven otherwise.  

“Thanks for kidnapping me.” – Miranda

Miranda (Corryn Cummins), age 18, mysteriously steps through the front door with a somewhat older man, Todd (Derek Manson).  He is in his thirties and they met while she was attending UC Berkeley. But three rigorous months of college have forced her to make a life change. She has dropped out of school and brings her enchanting and knowledgeable boyfriend over to the house.  He plays in a rock band and still lives at home with his mother.   

And liberally minded Todd is feeding her information about the disastrous events of 9/11. That the three towers could not have fallen from the impact of two planes and the ensuing fire, and especially unlikely is the free-fall collapse of the 47-story World Trade Building Seven.  

At first glance, Todd appears uninterested in her father's intimate involvement in the local congressional race.  But upon closer inspection, Todd pays particular attention to the smallest of details of her family life.  One gathers that he wants to meet this man who supports the congressman that sent his brother to Afghanistan and then to his early grave.

Todd's actions indicate that he is quite intrigued by the success of this family.

Todd is not a wallflower, makes himself at home, and pours himself a Johnny Walker Blue.  Miranda assesses his character from his choice of whisky and specifically instructs Todd not to make the choice when her father offers him a drink.

Later as Todd and Miranda are making out on the couch, the senile grandmother, Helen (Lisa Richards), appears and interrupts them.  Helen has recently moved in with the family after the death of her husband.  In her mind, her husband is still alive and she stares out of the window waiting for her husband to return.    

Later that night, Bingo (John Getz) and Annie (Trace Turville), in cocktail attire, return home from a night at a political event. Bingo wants a moment to relax in front of the TV.  But a married man never gets a moment of peace.  His solemnity is interrupted when his wife casually accuses him of having an affair with a press writer.

“Tell me I’m wrong!”  - Annie

Bingo does not.  

Miranda descends the staircase and interrupts their argument to tell them that she has dropped out of school.  She wants to go to culinary school.  

Quietly, Helen comes down the stairs and announces:

“There is a man upstairs.” - Helen

The next day, Miranda and Annie set the table for dinner. Miranda has meticulously cooked a fabulous dinner for Todd and the rest of the family. Absent-mindedly, or maybe habit, they don't set a place for Helen. That's just not done with company attending and they set another plate.

As they eat dinner and the discussion turns to the events of 9/11, Todd denies saying anything to Miranda about that day.

Knowing her daughter, Bingo takes the initiative and starts playing mind games with Todd.  Bingo has his suspicions that Todd is not right for this family. Helen, uncomfortable with the discussion, gets up and walks away. 

But this is only the first test of many that Todd is subjected to. Fortunately for Bingo he is a willing participant.  With each test, Bingo knocks Todd back into the Stone Age.  It is a humiliating display of one-up-man-ship that has the audience feeling very uncomfortable. 

There is a gnawing hunger in Todd’s motivation with which we are not completely privy to and as the play moves along this hunger manifests itself in many ways.  Unfortunately for Todd, Bingo lives the life of having many enemies and Todd is one more outsider he will not tolerate.

The cast is exceptional in every respect.

John Getz’s performance as Bingo is incredible.  As the character, he is despicable in ways that astound us.  He is never willing to give an inch in what he believes and says.  He sizes up his prey with an aperçu of a hawk.  He is as vicious and adulterous as anyone can be but with the kindly appearance of a successful man. And in his quiet moments, watching his super-8 projections, he remembers when times weighed less upon his being and one thinks he silently schemes for new battles the next day.  He is also a man who cares greatly for his family and will stop at nothing to protect them.  

L-R Corryn Cummins, Derek Manson

Corryn Cummins as Miranda has a naiveté charm about her.  She is willing to accept the information thrown to her as gospel. She is confused about her role in life and her relationship with the other characters on stage.  Knowing the kind of man her father is, she wants to protect her boyfriend but can do little when she learns the truth. As the actor, Cummins is excellent but it seems her choices were not sufficiently definitive so that we know what she is up to.  There is a purpose to her being and with a stronger choice, it would add to the character’s objective.

Derek Manson as Todd gives a thoroughly enjoyable performance.  As the character, his challenge is to become part of the family.  He caresses the xenophilia that is this family. He hopes to become one with their lives and even their thoughts but he doesn’t have the gravitas or the mental capacity to pull it off.  But one would suggest greater emphasis on the moment when he first sells out: at the dinner table in front of his girlfriend.  At this moment, his direction changes, the focus critical and now his observations are military in purpose.  His reconnoiter of each family member has its own drive for reasons known only to him.  I suspect it is humiliation first and revenge second.

Trace Turville as Annie plays a fascinating woman who seems to take all that is being offered.  She takes her husband’s honesty.  She takes the songs that her yoga instructor compiles as the best music for relaxation.  And she takes she news of her daughter quitting school with an understated yoga calm.  (Editors note:  this calmness is typical of yoga students when the world is falling around them.)  But underneath, she is boiling over because she knows that her daughter and husband are destroying what she has come to know as the perfect family.  Perfect home, husband, daughter, etc., She fights hard to get things back to normal but she doubts herself and her sexuality when this young man steps into her household.  This is a marvelous understated performance.  Still, one would like to see more of a bite and edge that digs deeper and scores major points.

Lisa Richards

Lisa Richards does a meticulous job as Helen. This is an interesting character study of someone who is senile but, in the context of the play, still has an objective to give the character purpose.  There is a point, through her senility, when she pulls it all together and states her position.  It is a marvelous moment that makes the theatre and its participants shutter.  And maybe that is point Richards was making: No matter how senile we become we are still a living breathing human being capable of change and purpose.  

There is a lot to be learned from Cody Henderson’s play.  About love, life and the choices we make. It is a very interesting study of the people we have become given the constant barrage of advertising and 24-hours-a-day news opinion. This family goes about their daily lives knowing they are part of the problem and not the solution.  But, it’s no skin off their nose, the only lives they worry about are the lives of their immediate family, and the outsider can go straight to the dark place of ignorance and insecurity.  And when the outsider comes into their lives they take no delight in his destruction but they destroy him just the same.  The only thing that propels this family is their conquest for eudemonia.  Some folks are just a little more sinister about getting to that point.

Henderson's play is also a terrifying look at the the games people play and the power of the mind.   And the mental supremacy games that systemically creep into the daily lives of the characters who are out for their own self-interest.  In truth, those characters want to control our lives without killing anyone.  But in reality they find little satisfaction in this way of life.

The Bewildered Herd does not have that definitive moment where we are awakened to the characters’ motives.  Perhaps that’s what makes this a remarkable play.

Laurie Woolery has directed a marvelous show.  It starts with a little trepidation but then begins to roll with steam.  There are moments that take your breath away and others that are equally shocking.  There is beauty in the telling and even between scenes, when characters are preparing for the next scene, they are all in character in moments that are picturesque and enticing.  There is not one wasted moment on stage and that’s a beautiful thing.   

The production staff also played a very part in this production starting with Scenic Design - Susan Gratch, Lighting Design – Dan Weingarten, Costume Design – Ann Closs-Farley, Sound Design – John Zalewski, Prop Master – Abra Brayman, Assistant Director – Ashley Teague, Stage Manager – David Salai, Press Representative – Ken Werther Publicity – and Graphic Design by Kiff Scholl.

The Production Photos were by Joel Daavid.  Casting Director – Raul Staggs did a very remarkable job getting this very fine cast.

It is not hard to see that as a society we have become a society of truth benders.  A truth that bends so far to the right or left we don’t know the truth anymore.

Run, and take a friend who has been recently fired from law or accounting firm.  You both might have the time of your life.

EXTENDED Through May 20 2012!

Greenway Court Theatre
544 N. Fairfax Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA  90036

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