Burning the Old Man is an exquisite new play by Kelly McAllister about the fire of the soul: how it burns, inflames, and then eventually gets extinguished. Thus, it tackles many facets of life and death. With a remarkable cast and solid direction, this production was moving and worth seeing.
The show takes place in a murky motel somewhere in the desert of Nevada. The main characters enter one by one: the trapped Jo (Sara Thigpen), the sharp-witted, offensive Bobby (Brett Christensen), the stoic Marty (Timothy McCracken), the carefree hippies, Candy (Christine Goodman) and Earth (Philip Emeott), and finally Jo’s husband, the fiery Eddy (John C. Fitzmaurice).
Bobby and Marty are on their way to a New Age festival to burn their father’s remains there, as per his dying wishes. Unfortunately, Bobby gets so freaked out about the day that he decides to smoke up in the back of the car, and accidentally sets it on fire. Stranded, they rely on the kindness of Jo, who takes care of the motel while her explosive husband, Eddy, works at a casino in Reno. The wacky hippies, who seem very spacey but end up being the wisest characters, enter to help everyone deal with their rage.
The play is filled with both humor and sentiment. The dialog is realistic, while overtly clever at times. McAllister has a knack for creating a world and exploring tons of metaphors associated with it. The first act impeccably sets up the second act; there is not a wasted moment in the entire show. This is a wonderfully crafted work.
All six actors became their roles, exploring the depths of the writing -- none of the parts ever felt forced. In particular, Fitzmaurice was dynamic and almost scary as the blundering Eddy, who is fired up from getting fired that day. Thigpen and McCracken delved into their emotion complexities and layers with spectacular skill. Christensen managed to be both funny and sentimental. Finally, Goodman and Emeott were hilarious as the kooky, in-touch-with-themselves hippies. Both showed charming comic talent that turned into deep meaning by the end.
Director Errickson brought the play together seamlessly. The staging and pacing were apropos, and he succeeded in bringing out poignant, nuanced performances in his ensemble. Harlan Penn’s mostly brown set created the sandy mood of the motel aptly. Carrie Wood’s lighting realistically captured the scene. The costumes, designed by Cheryl McCarron, were adequate and fitting.
Burning the Old Man is an intelligent, touching play. The production did it justice with an awesome cast and creative team. McAllister is one of the most compelling, clever playwrights of his generation. Go see for yourself!
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Copyright 2004 Seth Bisen-Hersh