Ghost From a Perfect Place
Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by Robi Polgar, Fri., May 14, 2004
Ghost From a Perfect Place
The Vortex, through May 30
Running Time: 1 hr, 45 min
You can't go home again. Or rather, you can, but you might regret it if you do. So it appears for Travis Flood, former neighborhood kingpin whose "business" was of the more nefarious gangster variety. He collected on debts, coolly, assuredly, dangerously. Broken limbs, shattered kneecaps, missing digits, blood, and brains all part of a day's work back in the good old days. Back then, the crowd parted when he passed. But he also had style, panache: Wearing a white lily in his buttonhole, he could transform people's lives (not always for the worse). Thing is, 20 years on, Travis has mostly been forgotten now that the neighborhood has really gone downhill. His return is not triumphant; it is anonymous. But a chance encounter with Rio a girl in a graveyard leads him to a burnt-out room and the answer to a missing part of his life, and hers.
Blending eerie reminiscence and the trappings of outright hostility, this Vortex Repertory Company production of Philip Ridley's Ghost From a Perfect Place feels as if it ought to be more provocative than it is. In a world of horrible violence and strangled humor, the stark dialogue and weird relationships prompt comparisons to Beckett or Pinter. But as atmospheric as this production is, it's difficult to discern its substance. Ann Marie Gordon's evocative and fractured set floats amid a sea of Jason Amato's saturated lights; and on this wretched raft of a room, the story of Travis and Rio is played out. Ridley's text is full of violence and vitriol, but director Michelle K. Fowler can only rouse a rather steady churn of angst out of the playwright's material. It's all a bit flat. The girl's relationship to Travis is hardly a mystery, and the only question is whether or not she has it in her to kill him with her girl-droogs. Collectively known as the Cheerleaders, Rio's gang consists of three blond pony-tailers with too much make-up and shredded gold miniskirts, who take pleasure in kicking the shit out of men and boys. But it doesn't ring true: Fowler hasn't penetrated the story or characters enough to allow their contradictions and doubts to resonate as strongly as their nastier sides. And for all the interesting movement and shimmer and shifting of Amato's lighting, one wonders just why these choices were made they are pretty but feel random. Fowler's put the play onstage, but the whole thing lacks an overarching passion.
The cast is anchored by Mick D'Arcy, in a role that you can imagine Bob Hoskins would love. D'Arcy does well as the always-in-control Travis, no matter what comes at him. But if there are any real cracks in this persona, they are hard to see, making Travis seem too remote. As Rio, Melissa Vogt comes on with a bang, literally, but it's not an image that sticks. It's hard to believe she's capable of the things she says she's done. The same goes for her two Cheerleader compatriots, Miss Sulpher and Miss Kerosine, played by Tyrrell Woolbert and Jane Adolph. The three look good (kudos to Pam Fletcher Friday's costume design), but they don't scare, and neither do they make you care about them. Patricia Wappner plays Rio's grandmother, a bandaged crone who conjures memories and ghosts, and who remembers Travis. Her memories are the key to the story, and Wappner slips easily and effectively into the dreamy tales of the better days. Yet she, as the others, could go further with her quirky character.
It's too bad the play feels as if there should be more to it. But whether it is Ridley's slightly too obvious story or Fowler's having eased up on a real difficult investigation of this world and these characters, or the actors not yet getting deeper into their characters, Ghost From a Perfect Place is more an apparition than a tangible, fully developed production, never achieving in the storytelling the same depth of color and texture as the design.