American Arcana

Local Arts Reviews

American Arcana

Blue Theater, through Feb. 28

Running time: 2 hrs, 20 min

"I bought a gun today." That line, spoken matter-of-factly and with an air of resignation by a society matron as she arranges flowers, signals us immediately that all is not well in the U.S. of Cyndi Williams' American Arcana. Violence, like some uncontrollable virus, has spread to the sedate and stately neighborhoods of the affluent, and even the genteel, pearl-necklace-wearing ladies of suburbia feel the need to defend themselves against it, to fight fire with firearms.

People are scared, and we quickly learn that there is more than rampant violence making the citizens anxious. The lights keep going out, planes have gone missing, the water has become toxic. More and more people are getting sick, and more and more babies are being born deformed. With each new scene, always beginning with the turning of a card from the tarot, we see the fabric of society unraveling further, Old Glory becoming little more than frayed threads of blue, white, and red – and mostly red.

The play follows a dozen or so characters trying to cope with this disturbing state of affairs, and they are an eclectic bunch: the aforementioned heat-packing matron, her floral designer pal, a tattoo artist, a pregnant gospel singer convinced she has Jesus in her womb, a hate-spewing talk-radio host, a far left-wing groom and his far right-wing best man, a conspiracy-theory-spouting bride, and even our commander in chief – the POTUS represented here by a life-sized puppet in a beribboned military uniform. He attempts to put a reassuring spin on the state of the union, but his words come off as so much political mumbo jumbo spouted by a jug-eared, glassy-eyed, wooden-headed dummy.

Whenever the prez speaks, a live video feed carries his image over TV sets embedded in the great wall of junk that covers the back wall of the Blue – designed by Chase Staggs, it's like the flotsam and jetsam of the American Dream left after this tsunami of chaos has crashed across the land. People stop to watch him, but not for long. They're too busy just surviving. Some, like Peck Phillips' radio host, his voice booming malevolence, or Leigh Anderson Fisher's Virgin, serene in her warped, narcissistic vision of Christianity, ride the crest of the wave of intolerance and cruelty. Others, like Enrique Bravo's young man trying to get home, his face taut from the struggle for survival, or Tamara Beland's matron, her face glowing as she discovers strengths she didn't know she had, just try to keep from being pulled down by the undertow.

The strong cast, which also features Bradley Carlin, Scott Daigle, Aimee Lasseigne, Carra Martinez, Julia M. Smith, Jose Villareal, and Elizabeth Wakehouse, brings the requisite sense of urgency and escalating tension to this Refraction Arts production, and director Sonnet Blanton moves them through this crumbling world with the swift, sure hand of a choreographer.

Still, we've seen the end of the world before. Apocalyptic tales are now a genre all their own, and whether the end comes about by a comet, a madman, or our own paranoia, the fight to survive in a world blown apart pretty much looks the same. Do we need another doomsday drama? Well, in this case, yes. Playwright Williams has tapped into the helplessness felt by so many Americans today faced with a society that seems to be in an unstoppable downward spiral of violence and intolerance and self-interest. She not only reflects our anxiety but reminds us of the need to do whatever we can to stave off the chaos. Hers may be a small statement in the grand scheme of things, but even the smallest statements can have meaning, as when the society matron, in the midst of this cataclysm, decides to get a tattoo. Tiny as it is, it's a sign of defiance.

The tattoo artist understands. But, she says they have to hurry. "We're losing the light." Indeed we are.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Cyndi Williams, American Arcana, Peck Phillips, Leigh Anderson Fisher, Enrique Bravo, Tamara Beland, Bradley Carlin, Scott Daigle, Aimee Lasseigne, Carra Martinez, Julia M. Smith, Jose Villareal, Elizabeth Wakehouse, Sonnet Blanton

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