Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Last Supper

Idaho Arts Collective is one of several brand new theaters to start up in the last couple years, including Daisy's Madhouse, Climbing Tree Productions and Alley Repertory Theater. It'll be interesting to see which of these groups have staying power. Hopefully, with venues like the Visual Arts Collective and Neurolux, they can afford to produce plays without having to pay to maintain their own theater, or, with IAC, that their venue is cheap enough to allow them to stay in production.

IAC's inaugural play, The Last Supper, is about a group of liberals who invite a complete stranger who holds extreme conservative views over for dinner. He pulls a knife, threatens to rape and kill them, and breaks one guy's arm. The liberals manage to save themselves by killing him with his own knife, and eventually the experience leads them to decide to invite other conservatives over for dinner so they can kill them.

I had just had dinner with my family the evening I saw this play, and my father, as usual, turned on Fox so we could all listen to it at the dinner table. Bill O'Reilly sets my teeth on edge, and I was really looking forward to a good parody of him and other conservative pundits. And while the show was fairly entertaining, it wasn't exactly what I'd hoped for. The script attempts to be a satire, but I don't think it succeeds. It tries to poke fun of far right ideologues by creating completely over-the-top, two-dimensional right-wing characters (except for the final conservative character). The problem with that is that no matter how over-the-top you try to make your right-wing sound bites, there are bound to be some wingnuts who actually believe just that. (As Exhibit A, I'd like to point out that one of the wingnuts who shows up to dinner in the show, a preacher, says he thinks all gay people should be put on an island away from everyone else. And now, here's a link to some real-life people in Idaho who believe just that and actually have the audacity to say so on the radio.)

Many of the characters, as I mentioned, are fairly two-dimensional, but the actors seem to give an extra layer of depth to them nonetheless. For instance, even when Gary Winterholler is playing a 17-year-old girl who's suing her school district for requiring sex ed, a fairly minimally developed character, he allows you to feel sympathy for her by reacting with fear and panic when Luke (played by Larry Brown) threatens her. All five of the actors playing liberals -- Brown, Chad Rinn, Jennifer Dunn, Aimee Nell Smith and Jared Hallock -- added dimensions to their characters in the scenes where they argue about the ethics of what they're doing (and, in the case of Aimee Nell Smith and Chad Rinn, the scenes where Rinn becomes less and less interested in making love because of his feelings about their scheme. All of them were downright explosive -- angry, passionate, fearful, hurt.

Idaho Actors Collective performed the show in a pretty odd physical space, but they made it work for them well. Action sometimes takes place in a walled-in room off to the side of the audience, with only an open window in the room to give the audience a view of what's going on inside. It was very effective -- it made me feel like we were really witnessing a private moment.

The Last Supper was kind of a mixed bag for the first time out for IAC, but not because of the acting or directing. It'll be interesting to see what else they decide to do.

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