You’ll feel like you’re in purgatory for this production’s 80 minutes.
The best way to describe this haphazard little show, courtesy of The Poor Theatre, is that it feels like overhearing someone else’s conversation at a bar. Now, on the one hand, Savage in Limbo, an early comedy from John Patrick Shanley, just so happens to be set at bar—a particularly dingy, ’80s-tastic little hole in the Bronx. On the other hand, most conversations overheard at actual bars are deeply uninteresting, inherently disjointed, and are pitched at a decibel level normally reserved for Navy jets. Unfortunately, it’s these latter traits that director Will Crouse’s production embodies.
Shanley’s script scrawls out the story of a woman named Denise Savage (Abbey Smith), a 32-year-old virgin who lives with her mother and bursts with a desire to do something—or anything, really; she’s not that picky. While spending her night in the aforementioned dingy watering hole, Denise runs into an old school friend, Linda Rotunda (Erika Haaland), who’s on the outs with her boyfriend Tony (Antonio Brunetti). Denise and Linda decide to move in together, in order to get a fresh start, and are soon joined in this endeavor by a third woman, April (Philena Gilmer), a semi-delusional alcoholic who happens to be the favorite customer of the bartender, Murk (Dan Toot). Eventually, Tony shows up to try to explain himself, which leads to Denise abandoning her previous plan and trying to get Tony to go out with her. The show is 70 minutes along, and you can’t decide whether a lot happens or nothing happens at all. Either way, there are a lot of monologues.
The funny thing about the show is that the acting is pretty good. None of the five actors gives a bad performance, and yet they all seem to be acting in a vacuum. It’s not a play so much as an acting class scene study. Nothing that happens in one moment seems to correspond to the thing that happens right before or right after it. It’s supposed to be funny, but it’s not. Sure, there are a few laughs, but not many more than could be had from just reading names out of the phone book. In fact, even reading names from the phone book from front to back would have the inherent drama of alphabetical order.
Lastly, Crouse’s decision to leave the house lights on for the entire production is a poor one. There are certainly times where avant-garde type stylistic choices are called for, but a remount of a middling John Patrick Shanley comedy is not one of them. At the very least, Crouse should have taken his cue from actual bars and kept the lighting on the audience turned real low. Ask any barkeep and they’ll tell you: People just want to suffer in peace.
Poor Theatre at Rivendell Theatre. By John Patrick Shanley. Directed by Will Crouse. With Antonio Brunetti, Philena Gilmer, Erika Haaland, Abbey Smith, Dan Toot. Running time: 1hr 20mins; no intermission.