The Revelation of Bobby Pritchard – Shitty Little Liars
A REVIEW BY THE BAD ORACLE
Contrary, I think, to some embarrassing popular belief, not all people who come to the understanding that they are gay also come around to thinking that they want to move to San Francisco and open a hemp commune. Not all gay teenagers are looking to blow their small towns and get the fuck out. Some people feel a little queasy at the thought of holding colorful banners and walking without their shirts on in Pride parades, not because they are self-hating, but because they are private. They want to grow up and get married in their family churches and hang American flags outside their doors and argue about swing sets. They don’t want to be “alternative” to anything. They just want to live all this with the person (or people) of their hearts’ desire. For these individuals, it gets better, sure, but it doesn’t necessarily get any less lonely. This seems to maybe be the case with Marta (Julie Herber) the central character in Rich Espey’s new play The Revelation of Bobby Pritchard. Marta lives with her wife, Cyn (Susan Porter) and they have a great life of sharing ice cream and the covers. The only hitch seems to be that Marta is constantly being visited by the ghost of Bobby Pritchard (Sean Kelly) , her teenaged friend from back home in Boiling Springs. It’s always something, right? Bobby can’t rest easy until Marta returns to their hometown to tell everyone what she knows about a cold night in February that took place decades ago. Cyn, being a therapist, decides that a trip back home sweet home to “the slave states” might be just the thing that banishes Bobby from their bedroom forever. Marta’s brother Hank (Dave LaSalle) is having some troubles of his own now that his son Oren (Sean Kelly) has been caught cuddling with the opposite team’s (get it?) high school quarterback. Determined to pray the gay out of the boy, Hank signs him up at some God-forsaken But I’m a Cheerleader clinic where he makes friends with Mary Charles (Heather Peacock), a “little more than tomboy” rebel who wants to do two things: get the hell out of there and torture her mother, Kathy (Sarah Lynn Taylor) while she does it. Time shifts between now and then. Figments of Marta’s past, her mother and father and younger, mirror-self (also Heather Peacock) flit back and forth, replaying broken and imperfect scenes of memory. This time travel is the most effective thing about Espey’s writing and director Steve Satta handles it very well. Even though the dialogue resembles free-form poetry at times, I never had any trouble following the action. I feel like in the hands of a lesser director, this could have gotten tangled like a ball of kitten twine. But no, it’s elegant and graceful as a shawl designates “mother”, an old hat “father”, a pair of galoshes “child”. Projections (design by Travis Levasseur) float in the background, ominous, gathering clouds. Espey enjoyably employs that good ol’ Southern code where “I baked the ziti after Pamela left” is double speak for “I’M the woman of the house now” and “Lovely to meet you”, said with a certain inflection, means “Fuck you.” Espey clearly likes his dialogue to go at a snippy clip, but there’s such a thing as talking too fucking fast and there was some glossing over lines I wanted to hear. There were times where it seemed like the actors were getting through it, yeah, but I didn’t necessarily feel them going through it. Motivations were sometimes unclear, perhaps as a result of too many re-writes, and the characterizations could have been sharper. For instance, the scene at the river is goddamned chillingly beautiful, everything, the acting (particularly from Sean Kelly) the lighting by Chris Flint, the projections of the rising, freezing water. I found myself wondering, though, why this incident would be taking place at this time. We hadn’t never these characters interact in any meaningful way prior to this moment so there was little emotional buildup to this scene. And then again, a twist at the end that should have been a sad conclusion came off like a cheap shock, with no real indication, no bread crumbs to follow to the end of that trail. Performances were a wee spotty. Porter, especially, had some trouble limbering up and seemed awfully stiff in the beginning. Herber is warm and genuine, a good and passionate touchstone that we want to lean against. I cared about what happened to her, I wanted her to have a happy ending. Sean Kelly is excellently fierce as the ghost of Bobby and as Oren (or, as he abbreviates his name to, “Pos”). I whiffed real angst off of Pos, but Kelly crucially doesn’t overplay and Satta lets the character figure it out slowly, without leading too strongly. Peacock’s Mary Chuck is winning and grinning, even if some of her dialogue seems awfully didactic as it strays into some Schrodinger’s cat and decaying radioactive particle talk. Her energy, though, is much appreciated. LaSalle had some simpatico moments, but I had trouble getting below the surface, I wasn’t quite sure where Hank was most of the time. I wish I had been able to see more clearly into his head but there’s a curious wall there. Taylor’s Kathy has the best lines and she plays with them with magnolia claws, her Mrs. Lovejoy cardigans and genteel homophobia pepper the show with a head-shakingly recognizable attitude.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The Revelations of Bobby Pritchard is a strong showing from one of Baltimore’s most compelling voices. The production occasionally stumbles but on the whole is a heartrending reminder that we aren’t really “post” very much for those who are living it. Sometimes home can be very creepy indeed. I had long thoughts about the show afterwards that linger and refuse to dissipate. Calling this one a success.
Running at Iron Crow (Baltimore Theater Project) until March 28th
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