LOFTY DEEDS A Redneck Good Time

November 23, 2009 at 10:52 pm Leave a comment

REVIEW

ALL THE FAME OF LOFTY DEEDS

 

House Theatre

Written by Mark Guarino

Directed by Tommy Rapley

Through December 20th (tickets available here)

 

*** (out of 4)

 

Let me clear the air before you read any further and let you know that I might be an anomaly when it comes to all things House Theatre.  To be honest, I’ve never really been too impressed by much of anything I’ve seen by them (which, admittedly, hasn’t been a whole lot).  Their adolescent sense of curiosity, dancey staging, and extreme energy acting doesn’t really jive with my tastes.  Maybe that makes me a soulless, fun-hating ol’ stick in the mud.  Either way, there was something about their newest production, All the Fame of Lofty Deeds, which struck a chord (get ready for some music puns) with me.  The show, detailing the rise and fall of a country music star, is darker and more mature than the House’s usual fare, and also requires a more grounded style.  Although there are some glaring narrative and stylistic issues, Lofty Deeds forces all of the House’s creative energy into something denser and deeper than anything I’ve seen there previously.

Although they usually devise their own pieces, the House chose an outside play as their season opener. Lofty Deeds, written by rock journalist Mark Guarino, is saturated with the music and art of Jon Langford.  Langford, an alt-country pioneer, is known for his twangy hillbilly music and mythic lyrics that combine classic country with a punk rock ethos.  He is also famous for painting portraits of country music legends like Hank Williams and Johnny Cash.  Lofty Deeds captures Langford’s aesthetic: the story revolves around a rebellious country music star staring death in the face (in the form of a tumbleweed), the design is inspired by Langford’s art, and vibrant, live versions of Langford’s music infiltrate every scene.

The “dangers/fallacies/hypocrisies of the music business” plot doesn’t cover any new territory.  At the beginning of the play, former country music star and senior citizen Lofty Deeds (Nathan Allen) is coerced into revisiting the ghosts of his past—the death of his recording partner and brother, ruined relationships, selling out to evil music executives, the inevitable substance addictions.  Where the House really succeeds is painting this story in a charmingly imaginative way.  In this production, the “suits” appear as a Brooks Brothers-adorned five-headed hydra.  Through Tommy Rapley’s dance-like choreography, the five actors that represent corporate America become a single organism: moving, speaking, and thinking the same.  We also see Deeds slow-dance his way into love with a woman whose face is always veiled, and then we watch him neglect her for a life on the road.  All of this is narrated and driven by a talking and singing tumbleweed (Corri Feuerstein).  It seems that the weed is sometimes a grim reaper figure, sometimes an inspiration, and sometimes the cause of Lofty’s unwanted flashbacks.  Like a bunch of the show’s elements, the tumbleweed character often causes more confusion than symbolic enlightenment.

I was able to forgive many of the clunkier moments and just go with the production’s rhythmic flow.  However, there were more than a handful of times when the narrative became obscured.  For example, there is a recurring talking horse puppet that never really made sense to me.  Part of these inconsistencies was probably due to Guarino’s script being a little underdeveloped, and part of it came from Rapley’s emphasis on theatricality over clarity.

Lofty Deeds stands out among House productions for me because it was the most grounded show I’ve seen by them.  In a refreshing twist, not every moment was overplayed.  Allen does a pretty good job carrying the show, but he plays far too much to the audience.  That might be the House’s aesthetic, and it is totally fine in the more expressive moments, but it can dissipate all the tension in the dramatic scenes.  It just doesn’t work when we watch Deeds discuss his perpetual loneliness with his brother’s ghost or the singing dead plant and then he turns and delivers a couple of lines to us.  Patrick Martin, though, does a marvelous job as his dead brother, Lefty Deeds.  He is simple yet complex, remarkably charming yet says little.  If the whole production could match his style, the show could be absolutely wonderful.

 

–Barry Eitel

More information can be found at www.thehousetheatre.com

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