Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church- Mountain

Remaining Performances:

Tuesday, July 16, 6:30 p.m.

Thursday, July 18, 8:45 p.m.

Sunday, July 21, 2:15 p.m.

Saturday, July 27, 10:00 p.m.

They say: “Lisa suspects her own son will be the next shooter on a rampage, but will anyone believe her? Can she stop him? Will she even try, or will her family, friends and community become more casualties in a present- day tragedy?”

Sophia’s Take:

As the lights go down a newscast comes over the speakers. A young man, Tyler Brody, sits center stage in an orange jumpsuit. He is under arrest for an unspecified, but we are told, horrific crime of gun violence. The newscaster labels him as evil. He pleads with us to understand. He explains himself by claiming he is a spider. If this makes no sense, it’s not supposed to. The majority of the play, written by Larry E. Blossom, takes place in the preceding months, exploring the events that lead up to this moment.

Dance of the Wasp and Spider is an admirable and interesting, but not entirely successful, attempt to illuminate the mysteries of shootings and the mental illnesses that cause people to perpetrate these crimes. It is also commenting on how the mentally ill are portrayed by the press and in the theater.

Tyler, the talented Alex Badalov, is in his late teens and obviously troubled. His parents, Lisa and Michael, Kevin Sidenstricker and Heather Godwin, have entirely different ways of trying to help him. Dad wants to toughen him up through ridicule, whereas mom resorts to medicating her kids with zoloft and ambien. Tyler’s sister Haley, who Emily Sucher imbues with just the right degree of saccharine self- centeredness, is starring in the school play David and Lisa, which also portrays adolescents with psychological issues. Michael’s obvious favoritism for his daughter exacerbates Tyler’s problems. While hardly a picture of an ideal home life, the Brody family’s brand of dysfunction is nothing unusual.

Meanwhile, Tyler’s friend, Chris, played with a welcome touch of humor by Thomas Ashcom, shows him a video of a wasp implanting larvae into a spider’s stomach. The larvae live off the spider until bursting through the stomach and killing their host. The audience is never shown the images, but this gross and engrossing natural phenomenon is vividly described. Blossom threads the imagery throughout the piece. Tyler becomes obsessed with this idea. As his illness worsens he begins to identify with the spider and hallucinate that wasps (i.e. his family) are infecting him with their poison. During this sequence the creativity of Ashcom, who composed original music for the piece, and sound and light designer Elliott Lanes, comes to the forefront. Their work adds a lot to our understanding of Tyler’s state of mind.

What perplexes me about Dance of the Wasp and Spider is how the sum of these influences equals an individual capable of going on a shooting rampage. Is the idea that these crimes, given the right stimulus, could potentially be perpetrated by anyone? Or was Tyler’s psyche always delicate and some sort of tragedy inevitable? Can this level of mental disintegration be the direct result of a less than perfect family life alone? I left the theater without a clear sense of Blossom’s ultimate message.

The play works much better as a commentary on how the press and certain works of art simplify the issue of mental illness. To label Tyler as evil does seem a reduction of the complexity of his problems. As misguided as his is, there is corrupted type of decency to his motivations.

The occasional references to David and Lisa, that could easily have come- off as cheap gimmicks, actually succeed in their purpose. In one sequence, Haley and her boyfriend Brandon play the final scene for the benefit of Michael. That play has a happy and romantic ending, the characters problems having somehow been perfectly solved.

Dance of the Wasp and Spider attempts no such tidy resolution. An audience may not walk away with as much insight into tragedies like Newtown as we might hope for. This creative team does have enough reverence for the complexities of these issues, however, to make a noble effort to get as many of them as possible onto the stage.

See it if: You are fascinated by the relationship of mental illness to gun violence.

Skip it if: The news affords you all the opportunity you want to contemplate gun violence.