the arts

Civilization (All You Can Eat)

Jason Grote's play comes off as fuzzy, especially in the half-light of SVT's staging

Reviewed by Elizabeth Cobbe, Fri., Feb. 24, 2012

Steamed pork: Jude Hickey as Big Hog
Steamed pork: Jude Hickey as Big Hog
Photo courtesy of Stephen Pruitt

Civilization (All You Can Eat)

Salvage Vanguard Theater, 2803 Manor Rd., 474-7886
Through March 3
Running time: 1 hr., 30 min.

The first thing you learn about the new Jason Grote play Civilization (All You Can Eat) is that there is a big hog (played by Jude Hickey). He's hungry and he's mad. This big, angry, vengeful animal is in some way representative of the darker aspects of the human experience.

The other characters in the play are all human, living recognizable lives as film directors, actors, waiters, and overeducated freelancers. The promotional material for the play calls it a "parable of the Obama age." The characters wander their way through life's obstacles, for the most part getting tripped up on the way to success and happiness. People put their trust in the wrong places, or in some cases, they simply stumble into a bad situation and do more damage trying to get out than they did in the first place. One of the characters is an academic (played by Michael Joplin) who has turned away from teaching to focus on developing a line of self-help business seminars based around an understanding of chaos theory. Chaos dominates everyone's lives, he insists, and we just have to learn how to plan for and respond to it.

Chaos has also left its mark on the script, alas. After the show, my companion remarked that she thought the stories were neat, but she couldn't figure out what they were supposed to mean when put together. I was tempted to just quote her and run that as my review, although doing so would be disrespectful to the great work of the acting ensemble. The performers demonstrate the intricacies of how people connect and then pull away from each other, like intransigent atoms that aren't sure whether they want to get into that whole molecule thing. It's also a thrill to watch actors who can so completely convince themselves that the world of the play is real.

Across scenes, the most common threads seem to be disappointment and sadness. (Unless you're a big hog.) Some of that is accentuated by the dark lighting (design by Stephen Pruitt), which is dark enough even to obscure some of the emotional content. Big Hog, for example, is little more than a grunting voice, and at some point there's a conversation happening on a pay phone, but what we can see of these scenes is fuzzy in the half-light.

There are good things happening in Civilization, but the production and script both are in need of greater illumination.



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