November 20, 2009

UT creates a lively Cemetery full of joy and sorrow

If you’ve ever spent a day with a five year-old, you have some idea of the spirit of Car Cemetery, University Theater’s tenth week production. At times joyful, at other times angry, depressing, and even frightening, Car Cemetery will leave its audience confused, exhausted, and strangely enchanted.

Car Cemetery transports its audience to a messy, noisy, apocalyptic junkyard. Broken-down cars serve as a hotel run by Milos (Hunter Buckworth), as well as a meeting place for Dina (Rudy Foster)—Milos’s prostitute—and her several imperious and picky customers (Evan Garrett, David Federman, Johnny Hung, and Alexis Chaney). Two runners, Tiossido (Colin Lethem) and Lasca (Autumn McConnico), train in the junkyard, occasionally interrupting the scene by running (and shouting) through their course. But the true focus of the play lies with a band of musicians—trumpeter Emanou (Fred Schmidt-Arenales), drummer Tope (Liam McLaughlin), and guitarist Fodere (Ted Gold)—who use the junkyard as a hiding place from the police, a team of frightening vigilantes. As the play moves on, it becomes apparent that this story is a retelling of the Passion, with Emanou as a Christ figure.

Despite the play’s serious topic, it has its joyous moments, along with a great deal of laughter. As if providing its residents with music wasn’t enough, Emanou also decorates the junkyard with flowers. His interactions with the other characters are incredibly innocent, although he does develop a sexual relationship with Dina. But the laughter is not always genuine—the unnatural loudness and sardonic tone of the characters’ laughter is often disconcerting. Nevertheless, there is a surprising amount of joy in the play, and even Dina’s clients have an innocence about them. One can only assume this is supposed to be a foil to the policemen’s harsh, threatening demeanor.

Written by Fernando Arrabal, the play is more than a little confusing. Car Cemetery is thoroughly post-modern, with all of the abstractness and absurdity associated with that word. The story lacks the clarity of a more traditional play, and an audience member searching for an unambigious story will inevitably be frustrated by many moments of seemingly arbitrary bizarreness.

The actors themselves alternate from one extreme emotion to the next, which reflects the chaos of the play. Buckworth, for instance, transforms from an angry pimp to remorseful lover, from an ingratiating businessman to the lead of a musical as he dances and sings in one particularly funny and frightening number. McConnico and Lethem change from runners to lovers to policemen, and Foster shifts between having subservient and dominating attitudes. The extremity of the acting, although in line with the abstractness of the play, makes the characters less personal and more archetypal, and has mixed results.

Other characters are more consistent, but no less impressive. Schmidt-Arenales is continually innocent, although sometimes confusion twists his actions. Gold, in a Harpo-esque manner, successfully pantomimes for the entire play. One of his mute tantrums transforms a very serious moment into one of the funniest in the play. Garrett, Federman, Hung, and Chaney all have a frustrating sense of entitlement throughout the play, although they nevertheless maintain distinct personalities.

Foster pulls off the part of Dina admirably. In some ways, it grounds the character. With Foster in the role, Dila is not a cliche as another objectified woman, but rather her own, specific person.

The set, sound, lighting, props, and costumes are in their early stages at the moment, but their future is rather discernible, particularly the set and sound. Presently, the set consists of a series of car doors, tires, and various pieces of junk, which provide a stark contrast with the atmosphere of joyful innocence and heighten the sense of despair. Similarly, the live music transports the audience away from the decrepit surroundings, providing a welcome shift in tone.

If you’ve missed your hyperactive little brother and his weird friends, Car Cemetery will serve as a not-so-gentle reminder of babysitting them. Although it abruptly shifts from one emotional extreme to another, the production also has several quiet moments that are all the more touching—or disturbing— because of this contrast. Consequently, Car Cemetery will leave its audience simultaneously bewildered and intrigued.