Armageddon With a Bat and a Golf Club

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Never underestimate the power of Stray Cat Theatre to take the most innocuous subject matter and turn it into a cauldron of emotion and turmoil! When I first heard about the show IMPENDING RUPTURE OF THE BELLY, I knew that it dealt with pregnancy and the reactions of a young man to his upcoming fatherhood. Never in a million years did I suspect what that reaction would be.

The show begins with a hard hitting monologue delivered to a silently seething Clay Stilts (a symbolic name if I ever heard one) by his so called friend Eugene, as Clay stands bathed in harshly silhouetted light taking it all in. Eugene (played by Scott C. Jeffers) exhorts Clay (brilliantly enacted by Michael Peck) to “cover your soft spots” as Clay is about to become a father. He is urged to protect his newborn at any cost from the scourges of the world like “terrorism, small pox, tornado” etc. This exhortation sets the stage for the rest of the play which consists of a series of increasingly bizarre and violent actions which Clay takes in order to comply with that task. Along the way his brother Ray Stilts (marvelously brought to life by Tom Leveen) appears. Ray is a down and out druggie, a screw-up who has wasted his life and ultimately succeeds in dragging once ‘upstanding’ citizen Clay off those stilts and into the morass of Ray’s world. In a small but vital dual role as Doug and his fictional double, the prisoner, newcomer Larry F. Pennuri is also excellent. Finally Courtney Weir as long suffering pregnant wife Terri Stilts is also very good, but it is definitely Peck and Leveen who steal the show. I have viewed this duo in action at their own Chyro Theatre many times, and I believe they are two of the finest theater people in the area.

Director Ron May has used all the elements of dramatic design in an incredible fashion and makes the almost bare small stage at TPAC come alive with energy and provocative theater. Lighting by Wolfram Ott is awesome; sound by John J. Caswell is thrilling; and the scenic design by David Castellano is amazing. It is not until almost the end of the play that the masterful set is totally revealed. Until then you look at bare walls broken only by a doorway on Up stage Left and a couple of garbage cans on Down stage Right. Suddenly as bombs detonate and fires burn along with the sound of gunfire, total chaos breaks out and the remainder of the set is revealed in awe inspiring grandeur. I do not want to reveal too much of the plot so I will leave my description at that, but it was absolutely great! As Clay and his nemesis battle (one with a baseball bat and one with a golf club), the futility, the terror and the tragic irony of the play is clearly laid out before the viewer. As a symbol of the cockeyed world in which we live and try to protect our families, the play is very thought provoking.

This is not easy fare, so I suggest that you go to see it only if you are not squeamish about rough language, violence and its results. In my opinion, it is worth a trip to downtown Tempe just to see the technical marvels on the stage at TPAC. Stray Cat has done it again!

An Impending Rupture of the Belly