Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Rx—Twilight Theater Company—N. Portland

Happiness is…?

This dark comedy is written by Kate Fodor and directed by Jo Strom Lane and Samuel Ruble.  It is playing at their space, 7515 N. Brandon Ave. (just off Lombard, near Denver), through September 24th (free parking in the small church lot across the street.)  For more information, go to their site at www.twilighttheatercompany.org

Fill in the above statement as to your own opinion.  Best answer I’ve heard to date is from a “Charlie Brown” character:  “Happiness is a warm puppy.”  Pretty darn close in my opinion.  Of course, to many, that answer is a bit more varied and complicated.  And in this electronic jungle of social media and pill popping, the answer seems to lie, not within (as it should be) but out there, somewhere, in the Great Wasteland of drugs, psycho-babble, cyber-babble and “Fake News.”  Are we at the crossroads of Armageddon?  Probably not but maybe we deserve it.  Maybe the mantra we should be following, instead of the petty twitters of dunceland, is a short quote from the medical profession:  “First--do no harm…!”  Everything after that may be that elusive…Happiness we seek.

This play is about such a miracle drug which would relieve anxiety and create a type of euphoria or happiness in people.  The drug folks are headed by the dynamic, Allison (Jayne Furlong), who is all talk and…well, all talk.  She is aided by her marketing cohort, the earnest, Richard (Timothy Busch). And there is, of course, the all-important, doctor who invented it all, the introverted, Phil (Zero Feeney) and another doctor, the absent-minded, Ed (Marquis “Tony” Dominque), looking also for that magic panacea.   And, for some odd reason, “Dolly Parton” (Jessica Wode) and her “9 to 5” anthem, is the inspiration for the whole fiasco.   But, in order to prove the pill’s worth, they need test subjects.

And so we meet the anxiety-ridden editor of a factory farming journal, Meena (Leslie Inmon), who is the ideal candidate because she love/hates her job; is confused/sure of her worth; is popular/ignored by others; and cries for solace in the bargain basement of a department store, where she also meets a mousy, retired housewife, Francis (Rhona Klein), who dreams, like Meena, of getting away from it all.  In other words, Meena is a perfect guinea pig…er, subject for their experiments…er, tests.  She also has a loyal cohort in the guise of Simon (Christopher Murphy), a faithful minion.  And so all these troubled souls will merge together to form a more im-perfect union.  Can’t tell you more without giving away plot devices.

The cast and directors really do well with the characters and some difficult staging.  The leads, Inmon, Feeney and Furlong are quite effective in their roles:  Furlong as the sexy but driven head of a company, Feeney as the as the meek but conflicted medical expert and Inmon as the neurotic subject caught in the middle.  Also good was Dominque is a couple of supporting roles, who also has stood out in past Twilight shows.  All of them making the best of a cluttered script.

The fault, then, lies not in the portrayers of the material but the way the material is put together.  Of a two hour show the script demands scene changes on the average of about every two minutes (sans the last scene, which is probably over five minutes, and is quite good).  There is no doubt the subject and story is worth telling but the script resembles more of a TV or movie type of presentation.  I marveled at the stage hands (Denver Lane, Harrison Allred, et. al.) who were very efficient and quick in their scene changes but that does not excuse the writer from making it so difficult for actors, crew and audiences alike to have to wade through what is potentially a good story.  Again, the failings are not of the troupe, who are quite good, but of the muddled script itself.

I marginally recommend this production, mainly because of the efforts of the company which produced it, but the script needs work.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.