Linus and Alora
Lively play confronts the end with almost childish preciousness
Published: July 6, 2011
Linus and Alora
By Andrew Irons
Through July 10 at Single Carrot Theater
For a company made up of a group of dedicated theater friends right out of college and only four seasons into its existence, Single Carrot Theater certainly has cataclysm and death on its collective brain. It not only inaugurated its Murder Ink reading, based on Anna Ditkoff’s weekly City Paper column, during its opening 2007-’08 season, it produced Paula Vogel’s The Baltimore Waltz, a comically uneasy exploration of facing terminal illness. The company got down with some old-fashioned noir-y murder with 2008-’09’s Killer Joe, and then really plunged into pondering the inevitable in 2009-’10, with Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice reimagining, the Presynakov Brothers’ Playing Dead, and the Armageddon hysteria of Will Eno’s Tragedy: A Tragedy. This season hasn’t lightened the tone one bit, with both Goa Xing Jian’s The Other Shore and Paula Vogel’s The Long Christmas Ride Home approaching the unknowable from oblique angles. And now arrives this season’s concluding production, Andrew Irons’ Linus and Alora, in which the titular wife (Susannah Edwards) faces the return of terminal cancer by retreating into the comforting fantasy of her imagination in an effort to give her husband Linus (Nathan A. Cooper) the same sort of creative inner strength to deal with his imminent need to live his life without her.
The SCT troupe and its comrades, however, have also been one of the most creatively loose local companies of the past four years. Whether it be incorporating musical bits into an unsentimental holiday program written by a company member (Aldo Pantoja’s La Muñeca), diving headlong into a noted playwright’s intentional curveball (Sarah Kane’s Crave), abandoning words entirely for a dose of hybridized sci-fi fantasia (the collaborative Illuminoctum), or going for absolute metaphysical broke with the sensual immersion of The Other Shore, SCT has never been afraid to try something out just to see what happens. Inventive collaborations, incorporating other media, introducing movement theater/dance elements, puppetry (puppetry?), scores played by musicians in the play, fucking slam poetry? SCT says, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes.
Under the direction of SCT’s Genevieve de Mahy (over its short existence the troupe has wisely rotated front and back of the house/organization duties), Linus is as much a multimedia experience as it is a dramatic one. Short films give visual life to Alora’s imaginative excursions; a trio—clarinetist/percussionist Madeline de Mahy, banjoist/guitarist Paul Diem, and percussionist/mandolinist Jeremy Durkin—provides musical interludes, and during some a Cuban couple (Melissa Wimbish and David Kellam) do something like a tango; and actors take turns climbing up one wall to a wall-mounted series of numbers, which begins to provide an abstract countdown to Alora’s inescapable final call.
She responds to the news the same way she did as a young girl, when the illness first threatened her: She retreated into the less scary realm of her imagination. There, she has three brothers—Neal (Kaveh Haerian), Owen (Nathan Fulton), and Arthur (Mike Zemarel), who dress like extras from Blazing Saddles/”The Little Rascals” and interact with the sort of vaudevillian slapstick that powers physical comedy from the Three Stooges to Bugs Bunny cartoons. They helped her deal with this illness once, and now that it’s returned, she hopes they can help her deal with it again—which means preparing her husband for her death. She chooses to do that in a rather curious fashion: The doctor gives her nine months to live; she tells Linus she’s pregnant.
It’s one of many ways playwright Irons conveniently layers the imagined and the real and establishes some rather trite parallels. What Alora is trying to give birth to is less an actual product of their relationship than his own ability to endure after she’s gone by tapping into his imagination. And bless Cooper for giving Linus a depth the script doesn’t provide him. Cooper has emerged as a SCT go-to for twitchy, nervous types, but what makes him special is that he can do anxious while seamlessly moving from comedy to drama. And uptight Linus, a man so set on literally walking the straight and narrow that Cooper actually travels in a series of straight lines and turns at perfect right angles for the first portion of the play, could feel like a TV show dad if Cooper didn’t give him a vulnerability and impishness that belies Linus’ boxed-in emotions.
That’s one of many performances and directorial choices that brings a rigor and accomplishment to a play that, despite its freewheeling approach and heavy subject matter, is at its thematic core a bit immature. Luckily, de Mahy also did the set design, turning SCT’s long rectangle into a black box that characters and ideas enter and leave from all directions. Even better, the fantasy brothers handle their screwball moments with a deft touch. Their scenes could spiral into hamminess, but Fulton, Zemarel, and especially Haerian don’t play the parts simply for yuks, adding softness and sharpening the edges for better effects. And best of all is the sight of long, tall Jessica Garrett riding out onto the stage on a child’s tricycle, playing a very young girl. Its a brief but illuminating scene, and other than clarifying Alora’s past, it delivers the considerable glee of watching an actress who has so often embodied the confidence, demeanor, and stature of a woman 20 years older in SCT productions reach back and nail the snotty, spitting bloody mess of an inconsolable baby howl.
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