Tuesday, February 22, 2011

THEATER: God's Waiting Room

The last thing an audience wants is to be told that they're entering limbo for the next seventy minutes, so it's a ballsy move on Ashlin Halfnight's part to have the characters in God's Waiting Room do exactly that. But it's a necessary risk: like Lathem Prince, an original piece running in repertory with this 2005 revival (and which also offered beer), the play is a time-jumping, fragmentary piece, and it's only by dropping your guard that you'll be able to follow these four denizens as they relive key moments of their lives, hoping to find the way in which they can finally move on. Although it's saddled with the late-series preaching of Lost and none of the mysteries of that island, Halfnight's flashback technique is effective and impeccably used as it builds to a tempestuous head. But the plot itself is held back by itself indefinite subject (and subjects): unlike his 2009 spiritual follow-up, Balaton, which focused on a family, God's Waiting Room doesn't seem to know where to go or what to focus on. In fact, it ends -- abruptly -- right as it's getting interesting.

The main drama of the play stems from the insistence of the highly religious Bordo (Libby King) that her employer, Inidra (Diane Davis), finally come to terms with her past and death: with her fellow limboees, her laid-back husband Drummond (Ryan King) and his pregnant mistress Saskia (Sarah Kate Jackson). The problem is that this drama is blatantly contrived (especially a gambling-and-insurance-fraud twist); there seems to be little reason for the mentally unbalanced Bordo to be punished with this unhappy triangle. In addition, the romantic, character-building portions are too quickly overrun by the inevitable tragedy of their death; at times, the play appears to be fighting itself.

Because of the formless nature of limbo -- expressed here with a smoke machine -- Kristjan Thor's directorial talents are no real help, either. The other shows in the "Theater in the Dark, With Lights" series (which includes Lathem Prince and The Laws of Motion) had visual themes or interlocking scene-changes to communicate progression and place; here, Thor relies entirely on a dizzying pace that doesn't truly kick in until the last twenty minutes. So, given the subject, is it a success for God's Waiting Room to be neither heavenly nor hellish?

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