Saturday, June 16, 2012


The very funny concept behind Luther, the second of three plays running as part of Clubbed Thumb's Summerworks festival, is that Walter (Gibson Frazier) and Marjorie (Kelly Mares) have adopted a shell-shocked veteran, Luther (Bobby Moreno), whom they treat as a cross between a teenager and a dog -- an animal who doesn't know better and therefore can't be held responsible for his actions. Ethan Lipton wants you to laugh, sure, but he's got a serious end in mind, one that's well-directed by Ken Rus Schmoll, who amps up the pathos so as to make the savagery more shocking. On the one hand, the show is fixated on the artificiality of a callous business class; on the other, it's remarking on the very real difficulty in reintegrating soldiers that we've conditioned to be killers into society. By merging the two worlds at a corporate party -- which are about as far as they can get from one another -- Luther makes some salient points on inhumanity in general, and the ways in which we're desperate to connect.

Photo/Heather Phelps-Lipton
The script, however, could serve from some thematic tightening: Marjorie is having trouble fitting in, too, but her story is overpowered by that of a socially awkward technician, Morris (the excellent John Ellison Conlee), who serves as a cross between the two worlds. (To be fair, he's infectious; I can understand getting swept away by this particular creation.) Moreover, by focusing on Morris, he steps back from the extremes -- illustrated to a certain degree by the sock-people that puppeteer Crystal Finn is parading about -- and too often uses him to directly comment on themes that may more effectively be left unspoken. (Again, Conlee absolutely nails his heartfelt speech about animals, bullies, and forgiveness, as does Moreno, given his own opportunity; it just feels too direct.) Some jokes, too, are a little hard to puzzle out: what to make of Captain James (Pete Simpson) and his arbitrator, Fran Leibowitz (Finn)? There's not much of a conclusion, either: Luther voluntarily goes to prison (after maiming or murdering two people), where he's apparently having a fine time, but what's Lipton trying to convey? That we should lock up former soldiers? That, unlike Marjorie and Walter, we shouldn't ignore the psychic baggage of our wards, trusting that love alone can set it right? 

Luther is asking the right questions, then; it's just not really answering them -- just entertaining them (and us). 

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