You know things are going bad for you when your hallucinations stop and remind you how much worse things could be. The hallucinations -- which include a creepy vaudevillian man and his trio of burlesque sidekicks and a bile-spewing spider straight out of a twisted Alice in Wonderland adaptation -- don't stop to tell the audience at Silver Bullet Trailer how much worse the play could be, but we get it, about as fast as we get that Julie Shavers's play is about the death of the American Dream.
Sari (Shavers) sits in a cheap fold-out chair by an icebox, a projection of a desert mesa and random rock outcroppings the only comfort on the wide, bare expanse of the stage. As she sprawls back, baking in the heat, a voice suddenly startles her awake: her unborn baby, calling out from the womb. Even when she's not full-on hallucinating, this apology of a woman (her name is "Sorry") lives a broken life: "I was a dancer," she says, and the baby sasses back: "In a strip club."
It's a funny line, and we laugh, but Silver Bullet Trailer never gets beyond crude shocks and grim entertainment. Unedited and unbalanced, Shavers's writing often goes too far: for instance, a Clown (Michael Hannon) makes a valid point about our supersaturated culture when he rages "Why go to the circus and see nine grown men in stupid outfits climb out of a Volkswagen when you can go to Whateverpalooza and see Sideshow what's his ass covered in tattoos shooting himself in the face with a nail gun while dangling a family of midgets from his testicles." But this nifty bit of comic hyperbole is followed up with a rant on unionized hobos, a bit of imagination that is fiercely pointless. (Similar things happen when Sari, fearing for her child, goes to a doctor only to be told that "If you don't have insurance, we let you die." It's another zinger of a line, but it's preceded by cheaper exaggerations about how backed up doctors are with golf games and interior redecoration.)
The plot itself becomes an exaggeration taken too far, especially in the scenes with Sari's child (Brent Popolizio), who has run away from his mother -- despite being unborn -- to find his father, Cowboy (Chris Hury). Here, Shavers gets trapped in symbolism, with Child as the unrealized, unnamed hope of America's future and Cowboy as the debauched once-upon-a-time hero. She traps her director, Dan O'Brien, too, for he's forced to stage these scenes in a bland and straightforward fashion, restraining the creative, nightmarish impulses that at least make Sari's scenes engaging to watch. Additionally, Shaver (as a frightened but outraged Sari), delivers a sound performance that helps to ground the more ridiculous characters, like a manic nincompoop of a Doctor (Ryan Woodie), who practices his golf swing more than his medicine. Child's scenes -- especially one with Begging Drunk, Sits on Grass in Dirty Tee Shirt, and Sweating Doritos (Chris O'Brien, Moti Margolin, Cate Bottiglione) -- just cringe with poor jokes that have no characters to bounce off of.
As if this weren't enough, Shavers ends Silver Bullet Trailer by cramming in all the jokes she hasn't had a chance to tackle: a silent movie wonders when the cute on-screen family cornered the market on "The American Dream," an animated PSA mocks the "Let's All Go To the Movies" song with Wal*Mart items (". . . and buy ourselves some crap!"), two talking claymation breasts pitch how nourishing beer is, and the classic American family is boiled down to three strangers who live in the same place. It's a heavy dose of consumerist backlash, like a mash-up of George Saunders short stories, but without the focus.
Shavers nails one thing in her play: "Where there's nothing, there's the possibility for anything. And that, kid, is terrifying." Silver Bullet Trailer, then, which starts with nothing and squanders its possibilities, is terrifying.
Monday, March 31, 2008