Saturday, July 27, 2013

Revelation by Samuel Brett Williams

L - R Ben Belack, Zibby Allen, Marco Naggar

By Joe Straw

And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them.” – Revelation Chapter 9 vs. 6 The Holy Bible – The Authorized King James Version

“Growing up, as a young boy in a deeply religious south, comic strip booklets, that littered lawns and roadways, were always a curiosity.  All of these comics started so nice, nice people with nice haircuts, and good folks doing good deeds.  That is until a character, with ruffled hair, does something rotten. And, as I turned the pages, the frames got darker; the expression of angst on this character’s horrific twisted face sent him on a downward spiral, to that dark place. Turning the page his body is now misshapen, his hands plug his ears, drowning out the evil sounds exploding in his head, all because he didn’t do one thing. It was enough to send shivers down a young boys spine.” – Narrator

Elephant Theatre Company presents the World Premiere of Revelation by Samuel Brett Williams, directed by Lindsay Allbaugh, and produced by David Fofi now playing at the beautiful Lillian Theatre in Hollywood. 

Revelation is a visually stunning, emotionally satisfying, and tenebrous comedy about relationships, before, during and after the rapture.  And isn’t that something you always wanted to see?

Or is it just two bodies, in various stages of undress, when we first enter the theatre?

A careful glance and one notices slight movements in bed as audience members marched to their seats, inconspicuously, so as not to disturb them.  Not peaking, but from my vantage point, I can only see a sensuous foot moving slightly, toes twisting from time to time.

At the same time I was trying to ingurgitate the wonderfully monstrous set by Jeffrey Eisemann, a multi-dimensional layered “L” shaped set that darkens the entire stage.

The play begins on a very quiet somber morning, which is suddenly interrupted by Brandon (Marco Naggar) who enters Rebecca’s (Zibby Allen) apartment screaming the rapture is coming.

“Jesus has comeback!  This is the rapture!  We’ve got to get to Arkansas!” – Brandon

The “we’ve” is, Rebecca, a lustful medical student, and Brandon, until he discovers that she is in bed with another man, Dan (Ben Belack) a wealthy pleasure seeker. Still Brandon grabs the suitcase, throws it on the bed, and suggests she start packing.

Rebecca and Dan don’t believe it until Brandon asks Dan to look out the window.  Below, on the streets of New York, are scenes of a horrific bloody carnage.  They immediately flip on the TV to get a first hand account, the man on the street point of view. And, simplistically enough, things are worse on screen, with all those strangling noises and burning flesh sounds.

The three decide to leave when clothes drop from the ceiling.  Which are the fortunate people whisked away, sans clothes, completely naked, compliments of the rapture.

Dan has had enough.  He wants to go home and be protected by his rich surroundings. He tells Rebecca they were “not dating” just sleeping together. And, leaving his sex partner, he runs out of the apartment building and burst into flames.

And if that wasn’t bad enough Holly (Carolina Espiro), a woman disguised as a police officer shoots him in the head - to put him out of his misery. And with gun in hand she robs Rebecca and Dan, tells them to get out of the apartment, and decides to live there.

With no one to turn to Rebecca becomes obsequious to Brandon’s plan to follow him to the promise land, New Jerusalem, Arkansas. So, among the screaming and chaos Brandon and Rebecca run to the dock off the red soaked Hudson river where they meet a lascivious man, Melvin (John Charles Meyer) who will take them across the river for $2,000 - offered by a not so savvy Brandon - and sexual favors.

L - R Marco Naggar, Zibby Allen, John Charles Meyer

With transaction complete they slowly cross the Hudson.

After crossing Brandon pulls out his - end of the world kit - and they stop to eat.  It is here we learn why their relationship was not successful.

“The sex was horrible.” – Rebecca

“It was my first time.” – Brandon

So this is why they didn’t get taken in the rapture. And while they sleep they are approached by two travelers Dr. Wilcox (Patrick Pankhurst), a professor and his student Annie (Chloe Peterson). Dr. Wilcox and Annie chose to swim the blood soaked Hudson River and have arrived on the other side with extreme boils on their faces.

Rebecca carefully, and completely, wraps Annie’s face with gauze bandage, possibly to help, but mostly to cover those unsightly boils.

Chloe Peterson, Patrick Pankhurst 

Rebecca and Brandon part their company only to be captured by Sally (Etienne Eckert), an evil woman in a wheelchair, and David (Lawrence Dillard), a wonderfully confused gun-toting torturer.  

And as they make their escape Brandon and Rebecca drive to their safe haven to meet his dad, Jacob (Tony Gatto) to live out their lives in the beautiful world of New Jerusalem, Arkansas.
Marco Naggar as Brandon enters the bedroom as though he were going to save her from the rapture, or at the very least warn her.  But wasn’t really surprised she was in bed with another man.  Good deed undone.  He is a decent man with one transgression and that got him where he is today.  Or so he thinks. Still he gathers her and off to Arkansas for the journey to paradise, New Jerusalem.  Naggar does some really good work here and has exceptional moments.

Zibby Allen as Rebecca is a lot smarter than her sexual endeavors. An atheist caught in bed with someone who cares nothing for her.  She does it for what? His monetary wealth?  She has the right to shout execrations to her former lover because sleeping with him means dating! Doesn’t it? Shame, and that seems to be one thing that has got her into this trouble and not taken by the rapture.  But, she is studying to be in the medical profession and maybe she is needed, if only to take care of the boils. Allen is remarkable and is a statuesque comic foil.

Ben Belack plays Dan and there is a reason he is not taken by the rapture.  He’s rich and openly engages in the conquest of flesh.  He does not want it to be known that he is dating the woman he’s slept with. They are just sex partners without benefits. The self-absorbed character cares only for immediate gratification and little that is beyond the length of his genitalia. And with that denial, well, the moment he walks out of that self protected apartment was the beginning of the end for Dan and that’s what got him into this sorry predicament. Belack does some fine work but would like to see a much broader defined self-absorbed character.

Carolina Espiro plays Holly, a gun toten faux security officer, who shoots everyone to put him or her out of their misery because: the spontaneous combustion of people just irks her. She figures she is doing them a favor.   She also plays Michael a nasty angel who comes to the rescue.  Espiro does some great work with both characters and has some very fine moments.  

John Charles Meyer is Melvin, a guy with the boat that gets folks out of the city.  But he is really revolting about what he wants and how he wants it.  Oddly enough he seems okay with the chaos going on around him, not smart enough to realize he is in a living hell. Meyer is incredibly funny and the boat ride (for some unknown reason) had the audience laughing to death, myself included.  

Patrick Pankhurst is Dr. Wilcox, a professor from the local university, is traveling with a companion who, they claim have just met.  But they know too much about each other especially after Wilcox’s wife died.  He was with her when maybe he should have been home with his wife.  I actually think more needs to made of this. Dr. Wilcox has a plausible explanation of the chaos around him and wishes for the boils to go away so that he can get on with the romantic interests with whoever is available. Pankhurst is very delightful in the role and hits the professor role with incredible precision.   

Chloe Peterson as Annie has found a new love, the professor. Unfortunately it happens when the seventh seal is broken.  Not a good time.  Still, she loves him, if she could only get rid of the boils. Annie seeks solace in someone who could actually help her, someone greater than the love of her miserable life. Peterson is marvelous in her craft.

Etienne Eckert plays Sally a nasty woman in a wheelchair trying to find the truth.  Only her truth requires that others suffer painfully.  And why shouldn’t they?   After all she’s stuck in a wheelchair for the rest of her life.  Is that any reason to take it out on others? Eckert is marvelous in the roll (role).

Zibby Allen and Lawrence Dillard 

Lawrence Dillard gives a grand performance as David.  It is so unusual and so specific that I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. David has a strange way of getting the truth out of anyone, which makes Dillard performance so remarkable.

Tony Gatto plays Jacob and he is not what we expected when we get to New Jerusalem, Arkansas. Without giving too much away, Gatto is marvelous.  He brings a sincere truth to this performance and is wonderful in the role. 

Other members of the cast that did not perform on this night are: Micah Cohen (Dan), Larvell Hood (Melvin), and Julie Mann (Rebecca).

Lindsay Allbaugh, the director, does a terrific job creating moments that lift you off your seats.  The night is a visually stimulating night that sends you out into the world questioning. Allbaugh is one of the finest directors working in Hollywood today.  She is a director that understands the through line, character development, and defining moments.  Overall, it was an inspirational and very funny night.

Samuel Brett Williams, the writer, has written a marvelous show.  There is a lot to think about when leaving the theatre.  Not everything worked this particular night but what does work, works magnificently.

Still, I want to throw my two cents worth, not as any form of criticism but just two cents. Jacob should be built up as a God in New Jerusalem so their journey means more and gives them a reason to get there quickly.  And when they get there, well, the situation is completely different (See “Wizard of Oz” for: deflated expectations). Dr. Wilcox and Annie should have an aggressive physical relationship, despite the boils. Jacob and Brandon’s relationship should add another physical element, despite the gun. The parishioners have disappeared in an unsightly way, and not too funny.  Is there another way to make this funny?  

David Fofi, the Producer, brings to Hollywood another work of cutting edge theatre.  The play was grand, the night spectacular, and the show greatly satisfying.

Tony Gatto was also the Assistant Director.  Cheryl Huggins, and Tara Norris served as the Associate Producers.  The effective lighting was by Matt Richter.  Peter Bayne provided the incredible Sound.  Costumes by Michael Mullen are wonderfully creative and did the trick.   The wonderful Projections by Corwin Evans were in short very stimulating especially the newscast and driving sequences!

Stage Manager was Rebecca Shoenberg and the Press Representative was Ken Werther Publicity.  Wonderful photos by Joel Daavid. 

Other members of the fine crew are as follows:

Producing Director – Greg Borrud
General Manager – Tony Foster
FX Scenery/Properties – Adam Hunter
Assistant Producer/Prop Master – Danielle Ozymandias
Prop Assistants – Caryl West, Mim Drew
Graphic Design – Sam McCay
Program Content Design – Brad Steinbauer

I’d also like to mention the movement of the stage pieces was incredibly effective and done with an astonishing flair.

Run!  Run!  Run! And take someone who carries a rapture kit with them at all times.

Through August 25, 2013

Reservations:  855-663-6743

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