Friday, February 04, 2011

THEATER: Lathem Prince

Photo/Michael Mahoney
Lathem (Kris Kling) is chilling in the cemetery with his bro Patio (Bryan Grossbauer), smoking some bud to take the edge off his father's recent death, a possible murder that's incorrectly, but hilariously, described as "Exactly like Othello, except your dad was white." Playwright Ashlin Halfnight (whose name is not an anagram of William Shakespeare's) has the two talking apace about ghosts and babies, at which point the hero of Lathem Prince abruptly mounts the long table, tripping back to a time shortly after his birth, a time, even then, when his mother, Gertie (Cindy Keiter), was a bit crazy and his father, William (Ralph Petrarca), had already begun his drunken descent. "This is confusing," says Lathem, removing the pacifier from his mouth. "Where are we?" Determined to keep things frantic but followable, director Kristjan Thor conjures up William's spirit -- back in the graveyard now, keep up! -- and has him go through the stereotypical moans of a ghost, bathrobe up around his head, before the man turns around, perfectly normal, whiskey in hand, to address his son, and reveal the mundanity of death: "We have a buffet." (The omelet bar costs extra.)

But wait, wait, let's go back to the beginning, to a point before Gertie posted naked pictures of herself in a national porno, attracting the attentions of the French-Detroit Claude (Michael McGregor Mahoney) -- an irrationally happy and long-schlonged dude who likes to boast about being an uncle -- all the way back, poolside, to the day that Hamlet met Ophelia ... [ahem], that Lathem met Lia (Hanna Cheek), he playing the smoldering loner card ("I was abandoned at birth; a park ranger found me, in a tundra"), she flirting haplessly, a fluttery and excitable "fish-bird" of a girl whose sexual urges (and wardrobe) eerily resemble those of Lathem's mother. Lost in that exuberant run-on? Titillated? Good: Lathem Prince is a fragmentary, hyperactive, comic romp; it's a memory play in the hands of a delusional, and depressed narrator; it's become, by the end, a remixed tone poem ("Onomatoepeia mother fucker!"), the sort of modern, sexed-up adaptation MTV would do if it had balls and a smarter audience.

By throwing caution to the wind, Halfnight's produced his most insanely quotable show, and has given Thor the opportunity to shine as a director. Working under the relatively set-less conditions of Halfnight's "Theater in the Dark, With Lights" series (which also includes the premiere of Laws of Motion and a revival of God's Waiting Room), Thor aggressively uses the space, with scenes occurring in spotlit split-screen (Lathem and Gertie look through the same box of pictures, but at different points in time; likewise, as Lathem loses his virginity, he is simultaneously being conceived), characters diving over the central table (or carrying on atop it), and turning innocent objects -- a potted plant, a fishbowl, a boombox -- into powerful signifiers.

Lathem Prince is also blessed with a terrific cast, the sort who know how to take things just far enough -- which is often further than you'd think -- without playing "full crazy." Kling's understated frustrations and deepening paranoia lead to some interestingly staged dreams/realities, a picture that more than measures up to the thousand words of, say, "To be, or not to be," and which serves him well as the set-upon center of the play. As for Cheek, her time spent in Clay McLeod Chapman's Pumpkin Pie Show has prepared her well for playing an empathetic yet increasingly crazy character, the sort who puts her boyfriend's used condoms in the freezer and excitedly/obsessively quotes old love letters. Keiter's a real find, too, pairing her shrill tones and small size with some disturbingly deadpan lines: "Come here and I'll crown you with my vagina."

Lathem Prince is a terrifically silly night at the theater, though watch out -- if you stop laughing (or laugh too hard) you might just find yourself in tears, for funny or not, this is a tragedy. An over-the-top tragedy.

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