In Mike Gorman’s fishing port inspired drama, one play of a trilogy, Steven and Big John, a pair of high school buddies reunite on a construction job and string along Steven’s artist girlfriend Michelle and writer brother Jim on an adventure they wish they never entered. What at first seems like an easy gig soon turns into a clashing of personalities and an entangled drug smuggling scheme that leads to reverting back to addiction. On the surface through synopsis, the play has an appealing and unique story to share but the truth is If Colorado Had an Ocean is a structural nightmare. Gorman throws a plentiful amount of ideas at the wall and uses whatever sticks. From a musical number to narration to thin secondary plot lines, the execution of a well built play is missing. To engage the audience to exposition, Gorman employs a musical montage that seemed incredibly out of place. The cast appears on stage together and sing the titular song while snippets of scenes are thrown in between the various choruses. The device is bizarre and never appears again. To allow campiness to enter this particular story seems iniquitous. The other campy moment of the piece comes in Act II with the incredibly presentational arrival of the client and distant relative of Moby Dick harpooner, Tashtego. The Tashtego sub plot is strange enough and only seems as the logical connection to tie the drug and harpooning themes into the play. The other large structural problem the play had was how Gorman used Jim. Jim was established as a narrator type but was sparsely utilized. His monologues were quite poetic, which was a jarring contrast from his dialogue with the other characters. The credibility of the character may be called into question due to the contrast. With so much going on and so much to track, it may be easy to lose focus and miss out on the importance of the story. With an abundance of cross relationships to cover, Gorman seemed unable to strengthen the core relationship of the motley trio.
|photo courtesy of Ken Arcara|
Director David Bennett, who has a deep history with Gorman’s trilogy, brought his previous experience to the piece but lacked an overall goal. With an striking set by Donald Eastman, Bennett was unable to utilize it properly. Yes, Eastman’s set was filled with challenges, including the primary playing space being thrust so far back in the space, but one of the more unfortunate recurring staging moments was the overhead project in relation to the wall it was projected on. Michelle, played by Melody Bates, spent much of her time creating art using the projector. With action and dialogue happening on the wall and by the projector, it was easy to get distracted by the images created and lose important dialogue. There was some beautiful theatricality though coming from lighting designer John Eckert and composer Rebecca Hart. The cohesiveness during the drug scenes with the tribal music and eerie lighting allowed for some striking moments on stage.
If Colorado Had an Ocean was an ambitious attempt at creating an important but ambition got in the way of execution. Perhaps before the other two parts of the trilogy are presented, another glance at the structure will be taken.