Friday, September 25, 2015

Review: The Evolution of 'Merica

Politics in America will forever feature two sides debating right and wrong. Even if one fight is over, there will always be another battle brewing. Such is the case in Paul Buzinski's political satire Selection Day.
Buzinski creates a not too distant future America where evolution and religion continue to engage in war, only in this future the evolution believers out number the religious fanatics. Under the leadership of Tara Whiteman, a lesbian President, America has drastically changed, eliminating Christmas as a holiday and instead acknowledging Selection Day, a celebration of Charles Darwin's birthday. President Whiteman's political advisor Marty Remlin must play peacemaker for pro science Robyn Downs, fighting for equal rights for sea anemone, and Lester Fuks, fighting to restore the religious stronghold of the country. Through a series of missteps and scheming, the opinion of the people changes on this whacky and wild Selection Day. Buzinski's play is oddly fascinating. There's so much depth yet at the same time it is a bit messy. As a short piece of political satire, this piece would be great, but it gets drawn out too long, hurting it in the long run. There is a lot of unnecessary material and repetition that could resolve the story in a single act. The characters Buzinski creates are obvious. You knew their game a mile away. Yet this proves the horrid nature that is American politics. The back room scheming is certainly on display, even if Buzinski's America seemed to have evolved. The character traits that Buzinski provides are interesting. A female and gay President that happens to be a religious closet case is mesmerizing. Placing her against the interesting case of a preacher of faith that happens to be the king of blackmail, completely disregarding sins. He's then juxtaposed to a science lover who is unaware and happens to mirror the wrongs of organized religion through her action. And that's why this play is a strong satire. But the execution could greatly use some polishing. The plot in Act II gets entirely rushed in order to make way for the Darwin pageant, something that so greatly wants to be streamlined. There are times in art that ambiguity is the right answer. A clean ending may not be the best option. Finding a way to restructure the final scene and allowing the final monologue by President Whiteman would have been a solid and mesmerizing end. The image of terror next to a speech of truth would hammer in the moral of the play. Going back to a happy and comedic ending was an unfortunate let down. Even with a modern idea and optimism for a new America, the jokes and humor feel dated and passé.
Bringing the outrageous characters to life, the ensemble expanded upon the extreme traits of their onstage personas. As pitbull Robyn Downs, Wende O’Reilly was victorious. She had a nice girl exterior hiding the evil villain inside. She put up a great fight against her taller counterpart, Jed Dickson as Lester Fuks. Dickson’s Fuks had the same objective as O’Reilly’s Downs, yet there was something about that accent that you knew was bad news right from the start. O’Reilly and Dickson played quite well off of one another. To play mediator and the straight man in the whacky world is hard. Christopher Romero Wilson did all he could to stand out. His character is sadly just not memorable compared to the rest of the ensemble. Buzinski employs a trio of ladies that serve as the Selection Day entertainment known as the Astral Girls. Name aside, the actresses who comprised the trio did a grand ol’ job finding individuality. From Rita McCann taking on the center spot filling the Beyonce quota to Melissa Patterson perfectly capturing the ditzy dumb blonde, to Atalanta Siegel being the voice of hesitance, they each gave their character something unique. What stood out as odd was the proud American aura for Selection Day, a celebration of the birth of a British man. Sure, Darwin is the king of evolution but portraying his birth as something as American as apple pie was a bit jarring. But hey, there's a lot of things that happen in America that are a bit quizzical.
Director Schnele Wilson took the material and made it flow. He captured Buzinski’s vision well. But Wilson also seemed to play it safe. Buzinski’s satire was certainly safe in its own respect but Wilson needed to add something stimulating and provocative. Even when it came to staging, Wilson primarily and safely utilized only two entrance and exit points, with a third finally coming into play late in the show. While the intent was present, not using that third point caused some staging issues and missed comedic opportunities. Composer Jeff Paul took some well known Christmas songs and put a Darwinian spin on them. And they certainly added some big laughs. The Americana set boasted red, white, and blue. There was a strategic spattering of items strewn around the space to give each location their own place. But the big table of food that was always present in the audience’s eye was a bit distracting. Only used minimally, finding a new solution for the small plot point would have aided the overall stage picture. During preshow, Wilson and Co seemed to play the “Best of America” soundtrack. It was on point and smartly utilized.
Selection Day is an engaging premise but the spark was sadly missing. With some fine tuning and some bold choices, Selection Day could have a promising future. But it needs to catch up to the comedic times.

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