The Deepest Play Ever: The Catharsis of Pathos
nytheatre.com review by Eric Winick
August 11, 2006
Ambitious, sprawling, scabrous, and at times bitingly funny, CollaborationTown's take on Mother Courage plays like the biggest inside joke to hit the theatre since Urinetown, attempting to do for Brecht what that musical did for its own hallowed predecessors. At least, that's the idea. While The Deepest Play Ever is meticulously researched, packing more references into two hours than Dennis Miller could in an entire season, the play wears out its welcome about an hour in, the victim of its own best intentions.
Taking its cues from Brecht, with sprinklings of Shakespeare, Strindberg, Marlowe, and, according to the program, Charles L. Mee and Sarah Kane, Deepest tells the story of Mother LaMadre (Chinasa Ogbuagu), who leads her children Swiss Cheese (TJ Witham), Golden Calf (Christopher Ouellette) and KitKat (Boo Killebrew) on a harrowing journey through the post-apocalyptic landscape of "New Europe," where literature and art have been eradicated by the violent ways of a Zombie-infested Evil Empire. The parallels to Mother Courage are obvious, and, at times, hilarious: Swiss Cheese is a kilt-wearing milquetoast, Golden Calf (i.e., Eilif) is played by a puppet, and KitKat (i.e., Kattrin) is a retarded (ahem, mentally challenged) waif in tutu and coonskin cap who plays the claves.
The plot of Deepest is too convoluted to mention here. Even the Narrator, a cipher prone to spouting sphinx-like riddles, gives up about 90 minutes in, stating glibly, "Back and forth these scenes go. I'm getting tired." Ultimately, Deepest is best appreciated as a series of moments, with several kick-ass production numbers and some truly memorable performances. Chief among these is that of Ms. Killebrew, whose KitKat is as heartbreaking as she is amusing, her face a scrunched ball of confusion, her language an incomprehensible panoply of grunts and squeaks. Phillip Taratula's white-faced narrator is a delightful cross between Joel Grey and Charles Nelson Reilly. Special mention must also be made of the costumes (consultation by Leon Dobkowski), which brilliantly convey everything a play set after two apocalypses should.
There's serious invention going on here, and energy to burn. Playwright Geoffrey Decas has clearly done his homework. Director Ryan Purcell's staging is powerful and relentless, and, pulling double-duty, Killebrew's choreography is a standout. But with a script that's 90% send-up and 10% story, one must devise increasingly ingenious ways of keeping the audience engaged. Reveling in one's own parodic genius only gets you so far. No matter who your influences are, there's no substitute for a clear through-line or narrative arc. As Mother LaMadre knows better than anyone, it's gotta go somewhere.