Bashed by the 2 X 4 Bash
By Philip Pearce
I’m a fan of The Western Stage’s 2 x 4 Bash. Its stated mission is to provide “an opportunity for the next generation of theatre artists to collaborate, innovate and educate through provocative contemporary works.” Each summer TWS management turns over the Studio Theatre to directors, actors, designers and house managers aged 18 to 35, who select and produce four plays in repertory over a period of about six weeks.
In a busy 2011 theater season, the first 2 x 4 Bash included one production I thought was better than anything else being done at that moment on the Monterey Peninsula and another that was well worth the trip to Salinas. I was excited to be in an audience, most of them a third to a quarter my age. It was heartening to realize that, far from being stereotypically drugged by electronics, these young patrons responded enthusiastically to live theater. So I went to this year’s 2 x 4 first night with high hopes.
Kelly McAllister’s long and noisy Burning the Old Man starts off well enough. Brothers Marty (Jesse Huston) and Bobby (Tim Thomson), like the brothers in Arthur Miller’s The Price, seem destined to learn about themselves and their relationship with their dead father by having to deal with material remnants of the old man’s legacy. In this case, up-tight Marty and free-wheeling Bobby are charged with delivering their father’s ashes and scattering them during a New Age rave-up somewhere in the Southwestern desert. Their opening encounter with a gushily conventional motel manager, adroitly played by Katie Garner, offers some nice ironic social comment. But from that point on things start to unravel. Taking on at least one too many unrelated sub-plots, the script lurches into an ever more complicated melee of confused motives, sketchy characterizations and relentless shouting matches. The sarcasm and tantrums subside a bit with the arrival of two dippy but quiet-voiced hippies, well played by Heather Osteraa and Andre Dodd, but the relief is all too brief and temporary. With the entrance of the motel lady’s drunken, foul-mouthed and abusive husband, played full throttle by Alex Bush, cacophony takes over and even the previously confused but ingratiating motel lady learns to holler like a fishwife.
The result is a dramatic letdown when Burning the Old Man finally arrives at its climax. Faced by the last of many plot complications, Jesse Huston, one of the best of the regular company of 2 x 4 actors, is forced to perform a wild and embarrassing cat-on-hot-bricks fury dance while he bellows out his lines like an injured bull. This happens not because it’s an inevitable or even logical response to what has just illogically taken place. It happens because the production has, up to this point, keyed every major scene to such a screaming intensity that all the frenzied hopping and howls seemed to be the only hope of topping any of that earlier bedlam. But it’s too late. Been there, done that, Marty. We wait for the final curtain, stony and indifferent victims of steady noise pollution and relentless emotional overkill.
There are still two other scripts plus an ad hoc ten minute play evening to come. I’m hoping for better things.