The Purpose of Tools
Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by Robi Polgar, Fri., Aug. 1, 2003
The Purpose of Tools: At Home With a Gone-Nuclear FamilyArts on Real, through Aug. 2
Running Time: 2 hrs
Mom is nuts, Dad is a workaholic, and their teenage daughter appears to be the only normal person in this overly well-to-do, highly dysfunctional suburban household. Wanda and Henry Walters, too wrapped up in their own day-to-day paranoias and compulsions, treat daughter Claire as if she were an alien being or, worse, as if she were as disturbed as they are. Communication is not one of this family's strong points. Mom's path to sanity appears to be her newfound church; Dad's salvation is in completing an impossible project at work; Claire, well, Claire just wants to be left alone. However, none gets exactly what she or he expects in this Loaded Gun Theory production, an often zany satire by company member Travis Holmes. This ain't no George Bernard Shaw, nor is it Molière, but Holmes has penned some nasty satirical material here, skewering the All-American Family, religion, work, and all those quirks of indulgence and possessiveness that make this country great.
The play hits the stage with a lot of energy, a strong cast, and some clever direction by Timothy Thomas, another LGT member. As Wanda, Le Easter is bug-eyed and desperate, eliciting laughs even standing in place. Her evolution from shopping-crazed, pill-popping, suburban-mom misery to clean-living church girl provides the most solid of foundations for the play. Blake Anthony DeLong carries the harried desperation of a man in the frenzy of a deadline brilliantly, and Valerie Redd gives daughter Claire a naturalness that, thankfully, offsets the sometimes too-zany world around her. As churchgoing true believer James, Ian LeClair also brings a natural tone to a play painted in broad comic strokes.
As sharp as much of the writing is, the play as a whole fizzles out. The three plot lines of the gone-nuclear family diverge, never really intersecting again. Instead we get three subplays, with the family members splitting up into their individual stories. The production suffers some from innumerable blackouts for innumerable set changes, putting the brakes on a play that runs best in nonstop mania mode (the unexpected dance numbers are controlled mania at its best). The strands of action lose their resonance, then. While there remain the ever-snappy bits of sardonic wit, as the play trundles along its tripartite path, the whole thing gets thinner and thinner -- a lengthy sketch or bit of agitprop with comic zingers, but one that has lingered beyond the interest or import of its message.
And there is a message to this play. Organized religion (or in the case of the Planet Bil crew, dazed and disorganized religion) may make for a soft target in a left-leaning theatre, and the bad guys, schemers, and crackpots may all be too obvious, but the bite of Holmes' satire still works when the audience easily recognizes these charlatans and can laugh at them. Would that we could dispel America's real charlatans with such good-natured laughter.