Ardor Doody and Big Rock Candy Mountain
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
September 9, 2009
The Subjective Theatre Company, longtime purveyors of activist, socially responsible, free theatre, have teamed with Mighty Little Productions for a double bill of cautionary satires. Ardor Doody, by Lucile Scott and Jesse Cameron Alick, is about a pair of clowns and a lesbian mime who have been imprisoned for not being funny. In the Big Rock Candy Mountain, a musical by Lucas Cantor (music and lyrics) and Julia Holleman (book and lyrics), is about a hedge fund trader who is hiding out from the SEC in a boxcar where he has stashed most of his assets. Both pieces are hit-and-miss in terms of making points about their targets, but in terms of earnest intention each has something cogent to say about the state of the world today.
Ardor Doody is the more serious of the pair. A clown named Bellow, who performs at kids' parties and the like, has been jailed because an exploding pigeon gag went awry, blinding the birthday girl. He is sharing a cell with Cajun Kidd, a rodeo clown who may or not be what he seems. Shortly after Bellow's arrival, a Lesbian Mime joins them. Insidious plottings and betrayals are suggested but the political machinations underlying the clowns' imprisonment finally never quite added up for me. What does resonate in Ardor Doody is the setup: a country where, at the government's instigation, the populace is encouraged to be happy all the time, to be passively entertained by clowns like Bellow rather than think for themselves.
Scout Durwood pretty much dominates the proceedings as the Lesbian Mime; her performance is funny and emotionally honest and she has stage presence to spare. Peej Mele does fine work as Bellow, but he has less to do. Unfortunately many of John Murdock's speeches as Cajun Kidd were nearly inaudible—he was doing a Clint Eastwood-ish monotone for his character that felt like a good choice but simply wasn't delivered loudly enough.
In the Big Rock Candy Mountain shows us Richard, a one-time Wall Street wizard now more or less on the run from the SEC, and his wife, Vanessa, living a life of privilege while hiding out in a boxcar on a cross-country trip from New York to some greener pastures. Some of Holleman's satire hits its target effectively here, such as the idea that the SEC Representative pursuing Richard is blind. But a lot of the material here feels fuzzy: the notion that Richard has amassed his wealth without creating anything tangible or useful, for example, comes up a few times but isn't really hammered out clearly. Brianna Hansen is delightful as the perfectly coiffed Vanessa, but Brian Whisenant is not as assured as Richard; Brian Corr is funny as the SEC Guy and another character appropriately billed as "Deus ex Machina."
Corr doubles playing percussion during the songs, which have been ingeniously arranged by composer Cantor for guitar and found objects (such as the side of a suitcase). Cantor plays said guitar. The music is engaging and enjoyable. I also need to make note of Jane Stein's rather remarkable set, which transforms the intimate Red Room playing space into a very believable home for Richard and Vanessa with more invention and economy than either of them would ever be likely to muster.
Steven Gillenwater and Emma Givens are the directors of the two pieces. I'm not sure which of them is responsible for the charming transition between the plays, during which the ingratiating Cantor leads the audience in a singalong of "In the Big Rock Candy Mountain." Whoever thought of that deserves kudos—it's a great segment.