Monday, June 18, 2012

THEATER: Sovereign

Photo/Deborah Alexander
Rest assured, there are no Ewok-equivalents in Sovereign, the third and final part of Mac Rogers's epic work of science-fiction theater, The Honeycomb Trilogy. In fact, after twenty years of resistance against telepathic, communal, bug-like aliens, there's not a shred of "cuteness" left -- at least, not in Ronnie (Hanna Cheek), the once-rebellious teenager who saw her astronaut father deliberately transport clutches of eggs from Mars back to Earth and later fought against her bug-sympathizer brother, Abbie (Stephen Heskett), "winning" at the cost of fifty-one suicide bombers from each commune -- including her beloved Peck; pretty much the last person keeping her emotionally grounded. No, the action of Sovereign picks up in the Pyrrhic ashes: Ronnie's now the governor of her settlement, a idol worshiped and whispered about by the resistance, but as we see from her callous judgment of Budeen (C. L. Weatherstone), a dim-witted farmer who unknowingly breaks the law, she's all but lost her compassion -- her humanity. 

Heavy is the head that wears the crown, and having already tackled domestic (Advance Man) and action-packed (Blast Radius) dramas, Rogers now tracks the mental anguish of the war by setting up a courtroom drama. In the middle of the night, Ronnie's loyal soldiers, the besotted yet childish Wilkie (Neimah Djourabchi) and stoic veteran Sharp (Daryl Lathon), have finally captured Ronnie's traitorous brother, Abbie, leaving her with no choice but to try him for attempted genocide -- lest he be ripped to shreds by a mob-like community, an act that would trample all over their fragile, newly budding judicial system. Ronnie's ambitious underling, Zander (Matt Golden), takes up the prosecution; the defense is left to Tanya (Medina Senghore), an ardent idealist who represents everything that Ronnie has been forced to excise from herself, the sort of person who all too easily condemns the sometimes necessarily brutal decisions of others. Also along for the trial, as reminders of what's at stake, are Fee (Sara Thigpen), who lost her children under the alien occupation, and Claret (Erin Jerozal), a "skin" (i.e., alien mind trapped in a human body) who is currently carrying Abbie's child, and who now fears that these retributive humans will kill the last children of her race. 

Imagine that: trying a human for genocide, even as you yourself prepare to extinguish an entire species -- and if there's one thing that Rogers excels at above all others, it's making us sympathetic to both sides. This is one point where the change in casting is particularly effective. With no disrespect to David Rosenblatt, his version of Abbie often came across as a bullied brat, lashing back against the world; Heskett (outstanding in this and last year's Brain Explode!), on the other hand, carries a haunted and hunted look in his eyes that balances his self-assured intelligence. When he proudly advocates his role in the invasion, it's clear that he truly doesn't see it as genocide, but rather as the necessary evolution of an all-accepting, violence-free new species. Heskett's disturbingly convincing, even in spite of -- or perhaps because of -- his Achilles-like arrogance. Equally compelling, however, is Cheek's portrayal of the emotionally scarred (and physically injured) Ronnie, a state-of-mind no doubt helped by her experiences in the demanding Pumpkin Pie Show. Whereas Ronnie's been the clear hero -- if by dubious methods -- of the previous shows, she's a more complex, fallen character now, and Cheek plays through her pain like a woman tethered together with barbed wire: she's all grim determination, with a precious few happy memories ("fingerblasting") to occasionally soften her up. 

Given that this final installment has so much history behind it, it's no surprise that Sovereign is the strongest piece of the trilogy, as just as the children have matured, so have the other elements. Sandy Yalkin's set began as a once-tranquil Coral Gables home and was later transformed into a grimy, run-down pregnancy ward; it's now a combination of the two, for while it's brighter and cleaner -- the seat of Ronnie's power -- it's also dominated by a shrine to the fifty-one martyrs who took down the first hive, and filled with reminders of the arduous years -- like the reapers that remain stacked against the wall. Amanda Jenks's costumes are terrific, too: Ronnie's military garb strikes a compromise between the utility that she required during the war and the style that she misses from her childhood; Abbie's tattered clothes tell their own story, too. As for consistency, we have director Jordana Williams to thank for the way in which Claret's anthropological and diplomatic actions mirror those of Conor, the original "skin"; for keeping the potentially overly comic roles of Budeen and Wilkie entirely within reality; and for the exceptional scenes between the newly cast Ronnie and Abbie, who pick off bickering -- and reconciling -- exactly where they've left off.

The strength of Sovereign's cast, the dedication of the crew, and proven talent of the playwright, are each reasons enough for me to highly recommend this show, even to newcomers. Throw in the fact that, buried within that harshness, there is still a great deal of genuine humor and hope, and I really must insist that you check out this production. Set phasers to stunning, and get your ticket today.


Mariah MacCarthy said...

awesome article, but...


Aaron Riccio said...

Yup, you're totally right. I've fixed the error now -- not sure where "banging" came from, especially since my notes have FINGERBLASTING scrawled in all caps. The mind, the mind, it goes!

Mariah MacCarthy said...

It just occurred to me that there were no fingerblasting jokes in BLAST Radius. What's THAT about?!