The caricature is intense and some of the speeches are rat-a-tat word salad. This hit me in the first ten minutes of "Two Mile Hollow" at Phoenix Theatre Thursday night. The characters are flat and brazen, even though there are dips and peaks in their presentation: Actors can chew the scenery like demented termites, and no harm will be done to the overall result.
|Christopher brings from Hollywood his sense of entitlement, along with his personal assistant.|
Mikael Burke, a Chicagoan who was one of Indianapolis theater's stars at the turn of this century, seems to be in his element returning to the Phoenix to direct an adept cast, tuned to a high pitch of mania. The basis of Leah Nanako Winkler's excoriating comedy is to have a snooty, excessively self-focused white family played by actors of color in order to present a vivid contrast to an Asian-American woman's anxiety about life and career.
The family is preparing to give up its palatial home in the Hamptons ("Great Gatsby" territory and thus a ripe target for parody), but not without warped sentimentality whenever they recall the place's name. Their fortune rests on the gold-plated legacy of movie star Derek Donnelly. His widow, Blythe (Milicent Wright), is imperious and bigoted, unable to relate well to any kin except one successful son, producer Christopher (Jay Fuqua). The favorite has offended her by bringing along his "personal assistant," Charlotte (Adrianne Villareal), whose unwelcome exoticism and blocked ambitions earn the family's mockery.
Christopher's older brother, Joshua (Eddie Dean), is a mentally disturbed Ivy League washout unable to get a post-graduate purchase on real life. Their stepsister, Mary (Paige Elisse), is a tortured moonchild lamenting one failed relationship after another. All she needs is love, to reference the Beatles song that comes to mind when the family shakily reprises "Can't Buy Me Love," which they dimly imagine is a folk song taught to them by a departed maid from Argentina.
The actors are gloriously wrapped up in their assignments, and make all the savage nonsense seem natural. The overall effect of the show is as if an A.R. Gurney play had been rewritten as a graphic novel by R. Crumb. The hyperbolic display of grievances, technically enhanced with panache to underline the satire, gives the production the feel of a Fringe Fest show spread out over two acts.
White people attending "Two Mile Hollow" are virtually sure to sit there thinking, "I'm not that kind of white person." Of course they will. Yet American whites are probably on a long day's journey into night, heaven help us. The best way to deal with that likelihood at the Phoenix through April 30 might be to see Winkler's play as a commentary on other art, especially the family sorrows so indelibly put onstage by the explicitly referenced Anton Chekhov and Tennessee Williams.
My allusion to Eugene O'Neill also comes into play. Self-consciousness about past art is essential to the strength of postmodernism. If real upper-class white families were so dysfunctional, they would never have been in charge for so long, would they? That question centers this play's genuine pathos on the "normal" character of Charlotte, and that pathos remains despite her upbeat curtain speech at the end.