Smartly staged, solidly cast, and dazzlingly designed, Woolly Mammoth’s Andromeda Shack still sags toward the middle. Wanna bet that’s the playwright’s doing?
Author David Bucci aims his satirical swipes at everything from technophobia to the SUV mentality, but for every barb that hits judiciously home there’s a broadside that goes wide of its mark. And hey, rapacious, cookie-cutter corporate America just isn’t that hard a target. Neither are pretentious performance artists, obtuse cops, or suburban strip malls, but Bucci nonetheless has a whack at each one in turn.
Not that he doesn’t manage to beat a bit of comedy out of them: Andromeda Shack sets the delicious Rhea Seehorn (brightly goofy as only she can be) squarely down amid the “standardized floor plan, merchandising theory, and general schematics” of the local Electroshack, which looks much like your friendly neighborhood Radio Shack store, right down to the slotted industrial-gray walls and the Star Trek stand-up in the corner. Seehorn plays Patsy, whose doubts about her dead-end day job are matched only by her aspirations as a nighttime performershe’s a cockeyed optimist of an actress wannabe with a performance-art repertoire that blends postfeminism with Greek myth, and she hasn’t let a few setbacks (such as being barred from the local alternative-arts space for life) shatter her faith in her singular talents.
The plot tangles itself around her aggressively awful performances on the local rave scene, a mysterious string of Electroshack bombings, and the local law’s bumbling efforts to bust the pharmaceutical-peddling rave organizer who may somehow be connected to all of it. (Christopher Marlowe Roche, the glitter-dusted dance-club queen in Source’s all-male The Importance of Being Earnest, butches it up nicely as the deliberately cartoonish cop in charge of the investigation.) Caught in the middle of this muddle is Patsy’s corporate-climbing manager, Elinor (a highly caffeinated Holly Twyford), whose obsessive, self-centered machinations provide occasional plot spurs and plentiful comic fodder; yanking her chain occasionally, and pulling other strings as well, are a mysterious European avant-gardist, a socially paralytic techno-geek, and a slick advertising type who shows up toward the end when the script takes a little deus-ex-marketing detour. The last three are all played agreeably by Mark Shanahan, and no one will be surprised to learn that two of them are disguises for the third.
What connects them all is the authorial notion that something vaguely oppressivetechnology, profit-mongering, the Manis keeping each character from realizing her potential, making his dream come true, finding that all-important individual bliss. Or maybe it’s an authorial sneer at the way we all secretly believe something of the sort; Bucci doesn’t seem to believe in Patsy’s talent any more than her boss does, and his broad sketch of the proto-anarchist she eventually inspires (Roche again, a little too free with the duuuuude ‘tude) doesn’t suggest much sympathy with his viewpoint, either. Then again, the linking notion may be that art and profit are just two more drugs, no less addictive or addling than the chemical kind. Bucci doesn’t stick with any one argument for long, so it’s hard to tell.
But then his is a sardonic slacker’s outrage, its targets as diverse as Total Quality Management theory, soft-headed academic disciplines, and sweeps-season broadcast-news hype. And because he doesn’t think much of his characters, none among them emerges as a focus for the play’s jumbled ideas; they’re all more or less targets of the author’s contempt, so it’s tough to figure out what he thinks the problem really is.
Lou Jacob’s direction nearly fills the void, though, with action that moves at a brisk clip and a flashy, noisy design scheme that’s been realized with flair by Lisa L. Ogonowski (the hypnotically aggressive lights), Mark Anduss (the campy, futuristic sounds), and Eileen E. Daly (whose duties as property designer must have taken her to every secondhand electronics shop in the region). David P. Gordon’s slick set, with its rows of glass counters and its automatic sliding doors, frames the whole neatly, and Brenda K. Plakans’ costumes add a bit of the character depth Bucci forgot to provide. (Patsy’s rave outfit, a Starlight Express-inflected get-up complete with shoulder pads and striped stockings, deserves special mention.)
But for all the flash and sizzleand for all the cast’s precise and funny workyou can’t help thinking, as personalities split and reunite and events spiral toward the ending you’ll have predicted well before intermission, that everybody’s putting a lot of energy into a project that might not really merit the effort. Andromeda Shack makes a hell of a showcase for the talents Woolly has assembled, but, like most showcases, it isn’t nearly as interesting as the goods on display. CP