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The Mountain, 900 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Saturday, July 10, at 10:30 p.m. Sunday, July 11, at 6:15 p.m. Thursday, July 15, at 10 p.m. Wednesday, July 21, at 7:45 p.m. Saturday, July 24, at 9:30 p.m.
They say: “A collapsing farmhouse sits atop a wondrous cave with the potential to make the American Dream reality. Unfortunately, it’s filled with cave monkeys, evolutionary theory, messy property rights and other human beings. Can dreams still come true?”
Derek’s Take: Cavers pits dreamer against dreamer in a slapstick saga packing more intrigue than a Shakespearean court. At issue: What to do with the cavern beneath Gertie Stoval’s farm? Gertie (Raven Bonniwell) sees riches in the stalagmites strewn across the stage and concocts various schemes, ranging from nuclear waste storage to underground French bike races, to monetize her find. It’s too bad, then, that her plans are beset by competing claims.
Turns out that the sub-surface rights to her property belong to a corporate behemoth, and a rogue researcher in league with a grad student (Vanita Kalra) in Gertie’s employ intends to turn the space into a bio-conservation zone. Throw in the aspirations of a would-be actress and the gurgling specter of a sewage facility leaking right into the cave, and Gertie’s hopes seem beyond reach.
The story stuffs an avalanche of themes into its 75 minutes. If you’ve ever thought a moment about issues concerning resource exploitation versus preservation, creationism versus evolution, and striving global capitalism versus small-town religious values, take heart: so has the playwright, Mark Rigney. His well-crafted if overwrought script gives the actors plenty to work with, if only fleetingly, given the breakneck pace of the story. Cavers, after all, is played for laughs.
Bonniwell delivers a spirited performance as the willfully iconoclastic Gertie; her squeaky drawl and incessant stomping underscore Gertie’s defiant if batty belief in her dreams. Her fervor I will get my share is her refrain is matched by the haughty elitist rantings of her nemesis, the biomedical researcher Polly (Aubri O’Connor). Kalra, in drag as the grad student Charlie Tuggle, excels as the pivot around which Gertie and Polly circulate. Loyal to his friend Gertie, but devoted to science and his blossoming career, Charlie alone is allowed to reconcile the competing aims of the characters and find balance.
It’s just this balance that’s lacking in the rest of the story. Rigney, in failing to make hard choices with the script, saps an otherwise intelligent and fanciful story of its impact. All that’s left is an exhausting pile of jokes and plot points.
See it if: You enjoy a whirlwind critique of modern times.
Skip it if: You’re overwhelmed by the byzantine twists of over-edited summer blockbusters.