Perseverance season ends on an 'Up' note

Theater Review

Posted: Friday, May 16, 2003

On StageBy Michael Christenson.

When I was young, we used to affix masts to wheeled chaise lounges and pilot them down the main drag.

When a number of broken limbs (from an unrelated incident) interfered with my water-skiing habit, I fastened a floating lawn chair to a bullet-shaped piece of plywood and attached the contraption to the back of the speedboat with a nylon rope. With my casts wrapped in garbage bags, I was able to make my laps around the lake. So I am familiar with a variety of ends to which lawn furniture can be put, although I'm a bit chagrined that I never once thought of trying to fly one to the moon.

Bridget Carpenter, the playwright of "Up," thought of basing a play on a man in a flying lawn chair. And the staff at Perseverance Theatre thought of dangling Ed Christian from the 20th Century Gross Alaska building downtown in a balloon-festooned lawn chair on April 28.

That date should be set aside each year to celebrate lunacy with lawn chairs. It turns out to have been the best nonstandard use of Sears outdoor furniture yet.

I don't ask for much from a play, just that it be aesthetically pleasing, emotionally satisfying, intellectually stimulating, inspirational and entertaining. Most plays only hit about half of these marks, so one needs to come to terms with mediocrity, or else you'll become a bitter old critic and going to the theater won't be much fun. Except in rare cases like this.

About the only thing that didn't completely work for me was the set, designed by Robert Pyzocha. He achieves some fantastic effects, but overall I found it uneven. The unnatural angles on one side of the stage (the kitchen) induce vertigo and actually produce a feeling of flying (or falling). But the clashing 1970s-style curtains in the living room on the other side of the stage are heinous.

The first thing one notices as the play opens is the high energy level. It might have been because it was opening night, but the sparkle and crack of Walter Griffin (Ed Christian) and Helen Griffin (Bethany Bereman), as well as the engaging dialogue, immediately draws one in. Christian is particularly frazzled and fragmented in his portrait of a man whose body is here but whose head is elsewhere.

This sets up one of the many dichotomies with which the play plays. Dreams versus reality eventually expands and permutates to encompass family versus love, honesty versus enlightenment, and expedient pragmatism versus perpetual exculpation.

I was misinformed about Devin Chalmers' (Mikey Griffin) chops before the show. Yes, this is his first professional show, but he's been performing almost half his life now. I was under-impressed at his work in the first act: a 17-year-old playing a 15-year-old, what a stretch. But what a payoff later in the play. The character, as written, has perhaps the most interesting arc of development of any in the play.

Sara Waisanen plays a low-rent, unwed teen mother who shops at TJ Maxx - the only indication we get in the play that this is set in California and not Alaska. Actually, the characters seem drawn very close to home - you will recognize all of them, and perhaps a bit of yourself in some of them.

Darius Jones plays a number of roles, including tightwire walker Philippe Petit. This is his last Perseverance performance before he heads off to graduate school. We wish him many happy returns.

The technical setup was nearly impeccable, except for an odd offstage thud, which may have involved a Chinese lantern, and a sound cue near the end of the second act that came too soon.

I have resisted giving a synopsis of the play. Partially it's because I don't want to drop any spoilers on you, and secondly because I've spoken to at least three people who have wildly divergent opinions on what it's all about. I disagreed with all of them, and that's one of the things that make this a play that you'll turn over in your mind long after you leave the theater.

There is an extreme fluidity to the use of time in "Up." It is allegedly set in the late 1990s, but in addition to the aforementioned '70s interior decorating, there is the origin of the ultra-light craft, which was circa 1976.

Perhaps Carpenter is subtly drawing our attention to a link between where we are and who we are. I don't know. "Up" asks questions you'll grapple with long after the house lights come up - hopefully in a comfortable lawn chair somewhere.

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