SHEPHERDSTOWN, W. VA., July 18, 2019 – The world premiere production of Wrecked, a new play by Greg Kalleres, reminds us of Michael Weller’s A Welcome Guest. Both of these CATF 2019 plays plunge the audience into the chaos of the unexpected. But, in my view at least, Greg Kalleres knits the disparate threads of his chaos back together again.
So, what’s Wrecked, anyway?
The playwright’s skill in wittily redefining what’s “normal” transforms Wrecked into a drama that’s quite exceptional on many levels. It’s a weird, funny and sometimes scary whodunit. But it’s also a dramatic journey deep into the world of relationships, whose ultimate resolution gets lost among the coping mechanisms Kalleres’ characters cobble together in an attempt to coexist with others. And get to the end of each successive day without suffering real or psychic damage.
Meeting a perfect Midwestern couple…
Set in the Midwest, Wrecked wreaks its strange magic in the comfortable living room of an upper middle-class couple. Victoria (Julia Coffey) and her husband John (Chris Thorn) are just arriving home from – surprise! – an evening at the local community theater. Bright, apparently self-aware and comfortable in their marriage, they seem to be the quintessential “perfect couple.”
But, if you’ve watched enough Forensic Files reruns, you know that perfect couples never are.
Victoria is quickly seized by a visceral fear. It has haunted her since sometime during their drive home from the theater.
Husband John (Chris Thorn) tries to dismiss Victoria’s fear. He acknowledges that they saw…something… along the road. They both think they may have hit “it.” But they soon persuade themselves that “it” was a creature, perhaps a dog.
So they kept on going without stopping to see. It couldn’t have been a human being they hit, or maybe a little kid. No, it was a dog. Just a dog. For sure. So they don’t bother to stop. Why face a potentially uncomfortable reality?
We’re off and running, consigned to spending the evening with a perfect couple whose perfect relationship slowly unravels bit by. A growing sense of guilt and doom takes its place, a feeling of dread that even attorney John’s legal training and logic can’t overcome. Did they just commit a hit-and-run? Tempers fray. Victoria starts turning into a nervous wreck. And then… with perfect timing, the doorbell rings.
… match them with a dysfunctional pair of theater people…
Enter their equally frazzled friend Lynn (Megan Bartle). Still in costume, she’s just starred in the opening night production of the play Victoria and John had attended. Even worse, she’s just broken up with her boyfriend Alex, who co-stars with her in the play. All three friends agree: It’s time for a heavy round of adult beverages.
Turns out that Lynn has shown up for a customary, if impromptu, relationship counseling session with her friends, the perfect married couple. And indeed, Victoria is more than happy to explain the rules-based system she and John concocted over the years to guarantee the marital nirvana they currently enjoy.
At which point, Alex (Tom Coiner) materializes. Still attired in his cop costume from the play. And with his costumed appearance, inadvertently cranking the Victoria and John fear factor up to 11 on the dial. At which point the dueling couples’ agendas take themselves and the audience into uncharted territory.
And voilà! A perfect relationship storm
Thus, a seemingly mundane plot turns into an unexpectedly wild ride for the audience. While naturally flowing laugh lines and occasionally slapstick humor dominate the action, we’re never quite sure what’s next, particularly when we hear wailing sirens in the distance. Is this a comedy? Or will the play take a much darker turn? Is it tragedy tomorrow and comedy tonight? It’s a strange experience indeed when you find yourself enjoying an uproariously funny drama even as a visceral fear and dread begins to inhabit the rest of your head.
No spoilers here. Wrecked is a play that’s best experienced live without a clue as to what happens at the final virtual curtain. In the meantime, playgoers should be on the look out for a wooden giraffe and a garage door from hell.
Wrecked: A classic example of “think theater”
True to CATF’s long-time “think theater” mantra, there’s a lot more in this play than just ditzy characters laboring beneath the weight of a haunting plot line. Kalleres is intent on exploring how relationships work. Or don’t. Which turns Wrecked into a play about dysfunctional couples that stitch together personal reality narratives comfortable enough to keep them together.
But, while both partners may share the same objective surface reality, each partner may very well experience that reality in an entirely different way.
We see this in Wrecked, largely due to the intricately layered writing of Greg Kalleres. Similar to Ellen Fairey accomplishes in her hilarious CATF hit, Support Group for Men, Kalleres layers subconscious truth into the ironic comments and zingers tossed off by his characters. Such talk, while often meant to lighten the mood, not infrequently serves to conceal fears and vulnerabilities by deflection.
Great dialogue and great acting make Wrecked a great night at the theater
Kalleres’ peppers his play’s snappy dialogue with clever and insightful literary allusions. These literary signposts give us some insight into the intelligence – and complexity – of characters who’ve built complex walls to surround and conceal their own vulnerabilities. So, folks, what’s inside?
Victoria and John: Perfection is just a construct
The four actors who carry this play have embraced all the complexity and have made it their own, each in his or her own distinct way. Julia Coffey plays Victoria as a friendly, positive, attractive and successful woman. But her Victoria also cleverly conceals her brittleness, her absolute fear of life itself, an unknown quantity that could shatter her sane act in seconds at any time. Which, in this play, looks increasingly like that will happen.
For his part, Chris Thorn’s John comes across as a guy who, for most of us, looks, thinks and acts like an attorney. Everything’s under control, problems can be finessed, and problems can be made to go away with the wave of a legal wand. Only as the play progresses and after John puts a couple of drinks away do we see that John’s lawyer act is concealing his own increasing fears, fears that all his legal wizardry might actually not prove sufficient to wave away a potential hit-and-run charge. We’re all in complete control. Until we’re not.
Lynn and Alex: Ditziness can conceal a finer intelligence
While Lynn and Alex are in many respects designed as tailor-made foils for Victoria and John – the perfect couple – the tables slowly turn as this play progresses. Megan Bartle’s self-centered Lynn is well aware of her own inadequacies, including her nonsensical diva act. It’s the one thing that really keeps her from getting involved in a promising, long-term relationship. Deep inside, she really thinks she can’t do it. So she generally torpedoes each relationship before she can find out if it will work.
Tom Coiner’s Alex comes across at first as something of a shallow boor. But, in fact, he’s probably the genuine article for Lynn, but she refuses to see it, driving him to consistently overreact.
Both characters seem permanently damned by their own hard-set habits. But, as things evolve, they prove far more capable of waking up and learning than the perfect couple that Lynn so strongly admires as role models.
Hat tips for those behind the curtain
Jesse Dreikosen’s tasteful, middle class set and props provide the perfect, surface-neutral atmospherics for this strangely intricate and revealing scary comedy. David Remedios’ sound design skills, ranging from distant sirens to an incredibly disturbing garage door, do not dominate, but they provide just the right touch at just the right time in this play.
Finally, Director Shelley Butler ties it all together by engineering crisp entrances and exits along with visual vignettes that accentuate the interplay among characters.
Wrecked is one of the brightest and most accessible of this season’s CATF dramas. But, like Support Group, there’s a lot beneath the surface. There’s intellect here as well as comedy and continuing frissons of terror. The play keeps you thinking and keeps you guessing. But it also keeps you interested and involved. Who could ask for anything more?
Rating: **** (4 out of 4 stars)
– Headline image: Julia Coffey and Chris Thorn in Greg Kalleres’ Wrecked.
Getting tickets and getting there:
CATF 2019 wraps up the final weekend of July. If you have interest in attending one or more plays, head straight for the festival’s website, CATF online: www.CATF.org. Purchase tickets or full ticket packages right there. Or call the CATF box office at 800.999.CATF (2283).
CATF’s web site also lists dining a wide array of available dining options. Also, directions for getting there and places to stay. Locales are in and around Shepherdstown, which is located in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia.