SOME THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE THE WORLD END(A FINAL EVENING WITH THE ILLUMINATI)
by Levi Lee & Larry Larson
Drag Strip Courage
Director ? Justin Flowers
Technician ? Dustin Nolen
Reverend Eddie ? Seth Johnston
Brother Lawrence ? Michael E. Muller
Visionaries ? Todd Camp, Kyle R. Trentham
Reviewed Performance: 7/9/2011
Reviewed by Bonnie K. Daman, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
As of lately, the term became more mainstream thanks to Brown's novel. What I came to find out was this play, scripted by Levi Lee and Larry Larson, was written in 1986 long before Hollywood popularized the elite secret society. So off I went to review this show which I knew nothing about, which could be a good thing, and I settled in for the evening.
Arts Fifth Avenue (A5A) sat nestled in the Fairmount Southside Historic District just south of downtown Fort Worth. As I made my way down Allen Street I was fascinated by the facility that appeared in the middle of this historically preserved neighborhood. Along the outside brick wall a mural had been painted leading up to the front entrance, and along the 5th Avenue side the main building was attached to a small outdoor stage with a few pieces of lighting equipment already in place. Followed next by a separate smaller building which housed the Mondo Drummers group, the overall facility had the feel of an eclectic art house where any type of artist could find a home to express their talent.
The theatre hall was intimate with open seating and refreshments provided by A5A, and no sooner had I found a seat but Gracey Tune, Founder and Artistic Director, walked up, introduced herself and offered me a personal tour. A gentle and cheerful woman, Gracey's eyes sparkled as she shared about their work at Arts Fifth Avenue. She looped her arm in mine as we walked through the green room (occupied by the actors preparing for that night's show) and throughout the facility where I learned about the company's music classes, tap recitals, cooking lessons, and the resident cat Lena Horne. The versatility of this little art house created in my mind, and in the truest sense, a community and family of artists.
Presented by Drag Strip Courage, the premise of Some Things You Need to Know Before the World Ends (A Final Evening with the Illuminati) concerned Reverend Eddie, a paranoid and eccentric preacher prepared to give his final sermon "Life is Like a Basketball Game". Aided by his Quasimodo-esque assistant Brother Lawrence, the two characterized a skewed but humorous look at organized religion, from a home-made machine that helped in self-affliction to a handful of "visions" that poked fun at the extremist side and nuances of Christianity.
Using the audience as the congregation Reverend Eddie's sanity slowly unraveled, his mind increasingly fragmented the more legalistic he became toward his own doctrine. Between pill-popping and his ever-increasing suspicion of the lurking Illuminati, Reverend Eddie eventually played out his final vision ? a basketball game with Death.
Seth Johnston as Reverend Eddie led the four-person cast through this quirky tale of religion and what bizarre parodies man could create when poking fun at our own beliefs. Johnston's sole costume was a pair of red, long underwear.
He was unkempt and mostly ragged in comparison to what his church looked like: boxes for a pulpit, Christmas lights hung on a cross, a plant pot for an offering basket.
Johnston was effective portraying a preacher that had gone off his rocker, and it appeared to be a very physical role to play which only encouraged the absurdity of it all. His relationship with Brother Lawrence felt a little disjointed in some instances, almost like the two were just quoting lines, but for the most part their timing together was in synch and the audience laughed quite a bit.
Brother Lawrence played by Michael E. Muller was a nice stable character to have next to Reverend Eddie. Muller was wistful, child-like, and played the naive hunchback with finesse, limp and all. As a younger actor I thought Muller still needed to gain some more experience onstage to grow his talent. His character was developed enough but he could still take it to that next level. However I did enjoy his "vision" monologue which had me in stitches.
The other half of the cast played by Todd Camp and Kyle R. Trentham were known as the Visionaries. The chemistry between these two was exceptional and I believed they stole the show. Camp and Trentham had a few short skits also known as Reverend Eddie's "visions". From a short musical country number to Trentham's application process to become a saint, the Visionaries were the highlight and one of the lighter portions of the play.
As for the technical aspects of this production, the stage was set within one of the building's main rooms also utilized for dance classes and other lessons, so there was a makeshift divider placed near the entrance to help block out any natural light that flooded in from the outside. The actors entered and exited from behind the audience but it never became a distraction. It was theatre in its simplest form: a stage, actors, a few lights and props and you had a show.
It took me quite some time to wrap my mind around the play as a whole. I understood what the playwrights Lee and Larson were getting at but it was such an oddity and so unbalanced that I'm still a little baffled. I didn't believe this had any bearing on Drag Strip Courage and their performance. I just thought the script was one of those "love it/hate it" stories. I was somewhere in the middle so I attributed that to Director Justin Flowers' interpretation of the story and was thankful for his decision to cast Camp and Trentham ? their roles traditionally played by the same actors cast as Reverend Eddie and Brother Lawrence.
Drag Strip Courage's motto is "Doing the art that others won't". This show was an example of their tenacity in bringing these bold, lesser-known shows to the stage so I applauded them for their daringness. All-in-all the show was entertaining, they made fun use of a few audience members and I wished that the show's run was longer. It would give folks a chance to not only see Drag Strip Courage but also to experience the Arts Fifth Avenue facility. It was a great to find a group of artists on the cutting edge of theatre and I expect to hear more about them in future.
(A FINAL EVENING WITH THE ILLUMINATI)
Drag Strip Courage, Arts Fifth Avenue, 1628 5th Avenue
Fort Worth, TX 76104
Runs through July 17th
Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 8:00 pm
For tickets and information please call 817-923-9500 or visit www.artsfifthavenue.org.