'The Bloodless Jungle,' Written By Peter Lawson Jones, Leaves Much to be Desired at Ensemble Theatre

click to enlarge 'The Bloodless Jungle,' Written By Peter Lawson Jones, Leaves Much to be Desired at Ensemble Theatre
Courtesy Ensemble Theatre

The theory behind Ensemble Theatre’s THEATRECLE season, which features plays different from their main stage series, is to give Cleveland artists the opportunity to “play” around. And that’s a great idea, as long as those artists are willing to take risks and really play with the form.

In the first offering of the CLE Season, we have The Bloodless Joungle written by Cleveland political and arts luminary Peter Lawson Jones. By bringing his insider knowledge of how politics is plays, Jones script has the advantage of verisimilitude. But it doesn’t expand the form or take enough chances to really be considered either “play” or play.

Ethan St. John is an Ohio state senator who is talked into running for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. From the first moment and throughout the play, every character makes it clear that St. John is really a saint, with virtually no character flaws. There’s the first problem for this play, since no one actually believes there are people like that. And if there are, then half the population probably hates them because of their policies and beliefs. Welcome to politics circa 2016.

Playwright Jones just ignores the current context and proceeds with the story of how St. John’s best pal from high school is causing problems because of his conviction for rape. That’s certainly a nasty piece of business, but the script never deals with it in a compelling manner.

Instead, we have extended scenes between St. John (a far too tame Robert Hunter) and his wife (Eva Rodriguez), discussing her traumatic past, and seemingly extraneous moments between St. John and his football buddy from college, Cyrus, who’s now his (of course) kick-ass campaign manager.

If director Terrence Spivey has talked with Jones about the length and meandering thrust of his play, it doesn’t show in this production. Eventually, we get tired of everyone buffing St. John’s ego knob till it glows and yearn for some real ball crushing political insider stuff. As the hard-nosed pol H. Henderson Hill, Greg White delivers some of that vibe, but far too little as it turns out. The one character who actually stands out is the aide to St. John, Malik, played by an animated and interesting Anthony Lanier.

Sometimes, the title of a play inadvertently captures its essence. And that is the case here, in a play that seems drained of its blood, and guts, in exchange for soft soap and pablum.

The Bloodless Jungle
Through October 2 at Ensemble Theatre, 2843 Washington Blvd., Cleveland Heights, 216-321-2930.
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Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
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