Saturday, October 24, 2015

Review: What It Means to Actually Care

There's a time and place to experiment. That place is usually the rehearsal room. In Unhealthy, Battalion Theatre Company decided to give each separate audience a different experience that could alter the narrative of Darren Caulley's story. Yet what happens if the random draw of characters turns out to be likely the perfect casting? Or was it so well rehearsed that no matter what the audience got the same evocative feeling would shine through? Well, you’d have to go again but fate was on Battalion’s side in this version of Unhealthy.
Darren Caulley’s enthralling story, we follow a quartet of twenty-somethings, each battling their own inner demon, that intersect in a manner that alters each other’s lives immensely. Roommates Michelle and Celia couldn’t be more opposite. Michelle is loved by all and is a star. Celia can’t find anyone or even a job. When a stranger named Maycomb arrives at the apartment, truths come to light about the nature of the stranger and his fascination, Michelle. Having met after seeing her perform, Maycomb believes that he has a loving friendship with Michelle only to find out it’s more of a pity situation. As Michelle arrives home with her costar Kurt to “run lines”, Maycomb’s true nature is revealed. Once the four lives become intertwined, each person’s deepest secrets come to light that triggers reflections of their individual character. Caulley’s script is dangerous and unafraid. Certainly we may find the result to be a little heightened but Caulley comes at the plot with truth. Without diving deep into backstory, Caulley paints a vivid picture of the characters that allows the plot to soar. For the most part with the exception of the roommates, the relationships are all fledgling yet they are genuine. And how each person uses the other is what makes the story tick.
photo by Jonathon Marin
After seeing your version of Unhealthy, you wonder what the other actors would have brought to the table in the opposite role. Whether the approach would have been the same with each of the four possible casting combinations, this version of Unhealthy was simply wondrous. Laura Piccoli is sensational as Celia. As the down and out shadow of Michelle, Piccoli had a lighter tone that came out as authentic. Piccoli is funny. She is sincere. And she allowed the damaged character to have hope within. You couldn’t help but cheer on Piccoli’s Celia and wish her to win. Those emotions she found were beautiful. On the opposite side of the character spectrum was Kullan Edberg as Michelle. Edberg’s Michelle was the character you hate even though you believed every single spun word that came out of her mouth. Michelle is a sociopath who is obsessed with being wanted and having attention. Michelle is an actress in every sense of the word, pretending to care about others when priority number one is herself. She is a narcissist who feels no remorse when cycling through friends and lovers. What Edberg did phenomenally was convince you she was noble despite the damage she caused. And when she met her demise, you can’t help but wonder if karma won. Dan Gonon gave a noteworthy performance as Maycomb. Gonon’s Maycomb may not have been mentally all together but their was truth in his performance. Gonon transformed into the character both physically and mentally. It was a heartbreaking performance to say the least. Even though you knew his actions were wrong, his intent came from the heart. Everyone has been in Maycomb’s position at some point or another. All they want is someone to care for them. And when that person is ripped away by their own accord, the mind goes to the extreme. Maycomb knew the truth, but when it came out, that’s when it was all over. Gerrit Turston took on Kurt, possibly the most sane of the characters. Kurt is a morally sound character that wants nothing but to do what’s right. Perhaps that’s what makes him unhealthy. Turston’s Kurt was quite reserved compared to the landscape of the other character, creating a nice contrast on stage. He fell for the temptress Michelle and despite hating him for it, you understood how.
By playing with the idea of potentially playing either role of the same gender, director Kelly Teaford was able to pull out something interesting from her company. It allowed the actors see the world of the play through different eyes. It was a very bold risk to take, as the performances may not have been complete. This was not the case. Where Unhealthy fell short was through it’s set. Caulley’s script required an apartment. It could have been simply but the nuances of the Kraine Theater seemed to be the downfall. There is no way to find promise in Caitlyn Murphey's set. It looked like a rundown apartment thrown together which is a bit of a bummer. The attempt to create an extension with doors is noble but being white it was an eyesore. Thankfully the script and the rest of the production made up for it. The sound design by Aidan Meyer included a very interesting blend of music and voices. It was the “uh oh, bad things are coming” cue. It may have been on point but it certainly added to the moment.
Battalion Theatre Company struck gold with Unhealthy. It was ambitious and has the ability to hit close to home. You should be following closely to see where Caulley’s script goes next. It’s good. It’s really really good.