Off the top of his head


By Ken Urban
Directed by Jenny Schwartz and Sarah Stern
Screaming Venus
The Present Company Theatorium
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Doug DeVita

The extensive program notes for Ken Urban's weirdly theatrical Halo are as follows:

"HALO examines the influence of the Catholic worldview on the individual and on society outside the official realm of the Church. Touching on themes of social dysfunction, alienation and self-sacrifice, HALO consists of three stylistically distinct sections that draw from local news stories, autobiographical material, and a medieval morality play. The author describes the sum as 'a pageant in which a woman looks backwards and forwards at her life, in which a young man and woman commit a crime, in which Everyman takes a journey from which she won't return.' Like pieces of a roughly cut jigsaw puzzle, or like facets of life in conflict, the sections have meaning in relation to one another but they seem to collide, rather than fit neatly together, to disturbing effect.

"Ultimately, HALO is highly personal indictment of the demands of religious (Catholic) faith, in its insistence upon devaluing the known - life in the present - for the sake of the unknown - an afterlife in which everything will finally have true meaning and importance. At the same time, it suggests a contrary view that one can be thoroughly grounded in the present and still achieves personal transcendence, neither religious nor metaphysical, through sacrifice - giving - for its own sake and with no expectation of repayment."

Whenever a producer feels compelled to provide such an extensive explanation in the program it is usually because someone has a feeling that a general audience is not going to "get" the author's intention without it, and that someone is generally right. There was much to admire in Screaming Venus's stylish production, directed with a spare elegance by Jenny Schwartz and Sarah Stern and performed with admirable commitment by a top-notch cast (Marilyn Beck, Deborah Carlson, Ruth Darcy, Kelly George, Matthew Lawlor, Taylor Ruckel, Monica Sirignano, Richard Van Slyke, Leigh Williams, and Justin Yorio). But the program notes were far more succinct than the author's provocative text. The chances he takes are admirable, he has a lot to say and says it with an original flair, but ultimately the work is just too out there to hold together as a viable piece of theatre. In one respect, the notes hit the nail on the head: everything did seem to collide to disturbing effect. But to what end? Yes, it was all very deep, it was all very hip, it was all very provocative. What it wasn't was a clear, concise, or engaging work. The ambition was admirable, as were also the style and the originality. But why make an audience watch helplessly as someone else vomits up past regrets, hurts, and rage while shouting "watch me, watch me, watch me"? In the end, there was nothing and no one to hold on to or care about.

Daniel Jagendorf provided sharply defined lighting that went far in giving the production its visual edge; set design consultant Juliana Von Haubrich provided a series of benches that were meant to define areas but somehow were merely in the way; the costumes (uncredited), most likely pulled from the actors' own wardrobes, helped define each character's position in life and their states of mind.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Sets: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2001 Doug DeVita