Monday, June 24, 2013

Rantoul and Die

Playwright Mark Roberts is not a member of the Amoralists, but his play Rantoul and Die, well-directed by Jay Stull, is Amoralist material right down to its DNA. The characters are working class and money is always an issue; they speak with a lyrical vulgarity that is poetic yet somehow realistic; they are deeply, noisily emotional; and they yell, curse, and hit one another, yet are strangely sympathetic. The plot is straightforward; the pacing is quick, even frenetic, and the mood is almost operatic in its intensity. Overall, the play is creepy, human, and extremely funny. Like I said, Amoralist theatre.

Sarah Lemp
Photo: Russ Rowland
Debbie married Rallis because "the rent will get paid and he probably won't hit me." And while she remains grateful that he did indeed treat her well, she is now tired of his depression, wimpiness, and total lack of bedroom skills. (Debbie tells Rallis, "We have lousy sex, Rallis. Those rare times we do have it. It is the ugliest, clumsiest, unsexiest thing I have ever seen. And I used to work in a nursing home.")

Rallis still adores Debbie so he slits his wrists in despair and/or as a cry for help. Gary, his good friend, responds by pushing Rallis to get off of the couch, leave Debbie behind, and restart his life. However, Gary's idea of helping is to strangle Rallis almost to death to prove that he doesn't actually want to kill himself. And his verbal comfort isn't much better: "Your heart is broke? Boo-fucking-hoo! Everybody's heart is broke. Why don't we all put up a billboard when we get our hearts broke. Wouldn't be able to find a fucking Wendy's."

Rantoul and Die combines one-liners, well-told stories, hysterical (in both forms of the word) nastiness, and monologues about love and sex and destruction that could fairly be called arias. Running through all of this is character-based humor, lives desperately led, and sheer exuberant theatricality.

Roberts could not ask for a better cast: Sarah Lemp as Debbie, Derek Ahonen as Rallis, Vanessa Vaché as Callie, Debbie's manager at the DQ, and Matthew Pilieci as Gary. All of them nail the speeches, mine the heartbreak, get their laughs, and are generally wonderful. Interestingly, in this very verbal play, perhaps the most impressive acting was by Sarah Lemp when listening, just listening, to Callie telling a long story. No, it wasn't Lemp listening; it was Debbie listening, rapt, completely engrossed, tremendously there.

Alfred Schatz (set design), Evan Roby (lighting design), Jaime Torres (costume design), and Jeanne Travis (sound design) provide a physically and emotionally beat-up environment, each of them contributing depth and texture to this hyper version of a very real world.

Rantoul and Die runs through July 20th at the Cherry Lane.

(fifth row, press ticket)

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