Dog & Pony Theatre Company at Raven Theatre (see Fringe & storefront). By Paul Oakley Stovall. Dir. Krissy Vanderwarker. With Evan Fillon, Laurie Larson, Faith Hurley, Celeste A. Frazier.
The issue play has its issues: It suffers from a bad, often earned rep as an antitheatrical use of the stage to sound off, make points, air grievances. And once Stovall’s premiere employs a blizzard to force a confrontation between a surly, whip-smart teen’s pro-evolution teacher and his pro-creationism mom, it seems that’s all Ape will do, too. Stovall, however, doesn’t stop there; rather than treating characters as mouthpieces for his viewpoints (the issue-play booby trap), he shows characters convincingly struggling with their own. When the teacher and mom argue about faith, theory and the inexplicable that always eludes science, we don’t hear the author. Budding political playwrights, take note: In this stimulating play, we hear people grappling with ideas within the context of their own stories (coming out, losing a child, enduring a disappointing marriage).
That happens most engagingly through the resonant mother-son relationship. In a moment of step-back observational truth, Aaron, who wraps every word in a protective gauze of caustic wit, gently asks his loopy yet loving mother, “When did you get crazy? You didn’t used to be crazy.” Such honesty has been handled with care by Vanderwarker and her fine cast; as Aaron’s mom, Larson is so natural she doesn’t seem to know she’s in a play. (The actors even pull off the distracting scene-transition monkey business.) It’s a new work, to be sure, with story and idea not always seamlessly integrated and the ending too pat and easy. It also signals an author whose evolution we’ll eagerly observe.—Novid Parsi