The metronomic beat of daily routine gets a bad rap in our society; "Same shit, different day," we observe with a grimace. As stultifying and boring as our routine can be (take a shower -- go to work -- go home -- eat -- sleep; repeat until dead), it still gives us some needed stability in a world that seems intent on seriously messing with our heads. But now and then, we need to be yanked out of our complacent reliance on the arc of the commonplace, and there are no two plays more suited to that task than Sam Shepard's Action and Mac Wellman's Cleveland, now being produced by the small but consistently invigorating Convergence-Continuum group.
In Action, Shepard plops two men and two women down at a kitchen table in the aftermath of some monumental undefined tragedy. Whatever it was that happened (nuclear war? collapse of the ozone layer? Tom DeLay appointed President?), these poor folk can't grow vegetables, can't go shopping, and are groping for their place in the scheme of things. By withholding the cause of their trauma, Shepard denies the audience any social or political takes and forces us to focus on the personal situation at hand. While the men, Jeep (Cliff Bailey) and Shooter (Brian Breth), smolder and occasionally explode in pointless rage, the women, Liza (Lisa Bradley) and Lupe (Jovana Batkovic), desperately cling to tasks -- serving a turkey dinner and hanging out the wash -- in an attempt to create some normalcy. Disconnect is everywhere, and Shooter eventually decides just to sit in an armchair and never leave it. Meanwhile, Jeep offers a paean to Walt Whitman and eviscerates a small fish on the kitchen table. Puzzling? Yes, and that's the point. Their routine has been taken away, and they are squirming on the needle point of terminal irrelevance.
Where Action is brooding and uncomfortable, Cleveland is often raucously funny, employing Wellman's jocular juggling of the English language (and other, thoroughly imaginary ones). Once again, routine is at the core, as Mother (Lucy Bredeson-Smith) and her daughter, Joan (Allyson Rosen), are living in a polymer-laden world and dealing, respectively, with a plugged-up sink and the agony of planning for the senior prom. But this ain't no WB sitcom, since we soon learn that Mother is a hostile space creature, here to steal human spinal fluid for her planet. Of course, most teenagers think their parents are aliens, and Joan is no exception -- until she reveals that she is really the extraterrestrial "Betty Brighteyes, Girl Space Cop" and grapples with her adversary/Mom in a whisper-talk battle to the death. And this is not to mention the overtones of Trotskyite politics, pseudo-Catholic rituals, and the Mayor of Cleveland with his head stuck in a restroom-towel dispenser.
Both plays, directed with wit by Clyde Simon and performed with gusto, invite the audience to drop their routine expectations and experience ideas and language from a fresh perspective. It's hard to ask more of an evening of theater than that.
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