Like a Voltaire on a particularly bad acid trip, Mac Wellman's black comedy Harm's Way takes its audience on an excessively violent tour of America that might have been ludicrous if it weren't so chillingly accurate.
The "fun" begins in the very first scene, when a recalcitrant child is disciplined by being shot dead. A virtual killing spree begins, as Candide's darker cousin Santouche flees the scene and hurls himself headlong into a mind-blowing journey across the archetypes of America. Wellman, like Voltaire, sees very little hope in the human condition, and if his cynicism is coarser than Voltaire's 18th-century elegance, it is no less out of place, particularly in light of recent headlines.
Richard Hutzler's production of this rarely produced mini-epic was fast-paced, beautifully staged, and hilarious, evoking genuine terror and laughter and managing to be a fascinating combination of concurrent grimness and charm. Billy Steele growled and snarled his way through the role of Santouche with a cold, demented authority, while Leslie Hibbard countered Steele with a gentle, deeply introspective and externally giving performance as Santouche's paramour Isle of Mercy. Heather Donohue and Courtney Wissinger were spookily observant as carnival sideshow performers, Edward Miller made the most of his one scene as another one of Santouche's hapless victims, as did Stephanie Q. Bowen as a mysterious character with the unlikely name of By Way of Being Hidden. Eric Michael Kochmer, Jayson Mathieu, and Nicholas T. Zelletz excelled in a variety of roles, and nearly stole the show every time they banded together to portray a Greek chorus with deadpan aplomb. Top honors for the evening, however, belonged to Philip Cruise, a dynamic young actor who jolted the already electric ensemble into the stratosphere with his devilishly funny portrait of an all-American con man/sideshow barker.
Production values were simple and inventive -- costumes were uncredited but appropriately conceived, Hutzler and Tom Lee provided a spare, all-purpose setting and then lit it with an inventive skill that caught the dark, ever-shifting moods of the story with a particularly dazzling brilliance.
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Copyright 2002 Doug DeVita