Seeds of interesting ideas struggle to take root
|Theatre Seven i/a/w Garage Rep 2013 presents|
Review by Catey Sullivan
Blacktop Sky just might hold the record for the number of blackouts in a one-act drama. That’s a not a good thing. And the problem with Theatre Seven’s staging of Christina Anderson’s drama is bigger than just with pacing, for this 85-minute, 30+-scene one act. With a second half that feels like a pushmepullyou tug-of-war between lights up and lights down as wordless, micro-scenes take the stage, Anderson’s inconsequential drama loses whatever urgency it might have had. Which, alas, isn’t that much to begin with.
Directed by Cassie Sanders, the Theatre Seven staging is a static tale of Klass (Julian Parker), a homeless youth (a bit too well-scrubbed throughout to ever be believable as truly homeless) who has staked a claim to a park bench near a New York City housing project. His presence intersects with the lives of Ida (Kristin E. Ellis), a young woman living restlessly nearby with her mother and Wynn (Eric Lynch), Ida’s long-term boyfriend. The three make a conflicted triangle as Ida is both drawn to and repelled by the damaged man while Wynn grows increasingly annoyed with his girlfriend’s often reluctant outreach efforts.
The primary problems (other than all those blackouts) within Anderson’s narrative is that no one in the three-person story is especially memorable and the story itself defies credibility. Klass falls uncomfortably close to cliché with his quasi-poetic/philosophical ramblings. More problematically, he lacks the charisma needed to make us believe that Ida would be so fascinated with him. As for Ida and Wynn, they simply fail to make much of an impression. She’s got issues with her mother. He has a temper. As played here, their defining characteristics evoke little more than a shrugging meh. Any story spun from such a lackluster basis is going to suffer, and so it does here.
Anderson bookends Blacktop Sky with scenes of police brutality, but – like relationship of her characters – she fails to make those scenes resonate in any meaningful way. There’s no heightened sense of menace that ensues when the cops – represented only by offstage voices – show up to stir up trouble.
The best part of Blacktop Sky is Lizzie Bracken’s wonderful set, a battered inner-city courtyard defined by the cracked, titular blacktop. The pocket park grows ever more seedy as Blacktop Sky winds on, morphing from gritty urban open space to a lot strewn with the castoff detritus that Klass gathers around him like a protective wall. As for Klass, he remains largely a cipher. We get bits and pieces of his story, but like Ida and Wynn, he’s underwritten to the point of character sketch as opposed to fully formed character.
There are seeds of some interesting ideas in Blacktop Sky, issues including class, race, police profiling and the dangerously troubled communication that can ensue when people miss connections. But Anderson fails to explore any of this with any depth. In the end, Blacktop Sky feels more like a first draft or an outline than a finished play.
Blacktop Sky continues through April 20th at Location, address (map), with performances in repertory – full schedule here. Tickets are $20, and are available by phone (312-335-1650) or online through Steppenwolf.org (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at TheatreSeven.org. (Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes, no intermission)
Photos by Michael Brosilow
behind the scenes
Cassie Sanders (director), Paige Collins (asst. director), Lizzie Bracken (set), Lee Keenan (lighting), Brenda Winstead (costume), Chris LaPorte (sound design), Toni Kendricks (props design), Taylor Fenderbosch (stage manager), Allaina Blackwell (asst. stage manager), Jennifer McClendon (production manager), Christopher Kristant (tech director), Michael Brosilow (photos)