Wednesday, November 26, 2014

"Fangs" pulls Reality into Farce

Cast of Fangs (courtesy Jim Moran)
Through December 6, 2014

A new play, Fangs, by local playwright Jim Moran is being presented at Eclectic Theater. It has an interesting political slant, showing a Republican state lawmaker in the middle of a campaign when his daughter charges him with hypocrisy. It’s comedic reality until it becomes farce.

Moran sets up a solid confrontation in a cabin in the woods during a snow storm. Riley Perkins (Chris Macdonald) and his aide, Toby Beale (Shane Regan), continue to work the phones on state business and campaign issues. They wheel and deal while Riley’s wife (Samantha Routh) gets drunk and snow falls.

Suddenly, Riley’s daughter, Madison (Rachel Anne Godbe), arrives after hitching a ride with a state wildlife official (Ashley Bagwell). She’s come to remind her father that she had an abortion when she was 16, and she thinks his stance against abortion is hypocritical, since he helped her obtain hers but would legislate against others doing so.

There is a fair amount of credible dialogue in the first part of the play. It’s labeled Act One, though there is not much that demands this short piece to have an intermission. The situation is mined for laughs, especially adding the odd wildlife guy, but we’ve certainly had our share of hypocritical legislators in the news. At the midpoint, Moran’s construct is poised to go in many directions, plausibly.

However, his choice is to let what he’s built go completely farcical, dissipating any real revelations and resolutions: the focus becomes a mountain lion close to the cabin and what’s to be done about it, while step-mother Karen gets out-of-her-mind drunk and flirtatious (for no reason) with the wildlife guy.

If you like outrageous farce, then you will love the direction Moran takes with this piece. I think he kind of squandered an interesting set-up and may not have challenged himself to grapple with and deepen the family conflict and the political interweaving.

The cast overall does good work with the characters, especially Macdonald and Godbe who have good interplay as father and daughter. Godbe has the right level of strident, self-righteous young woman, filled with ideals and clear notions of right versus wrong. Macdonald handles her confrontation with the strength of a father who believes in himself and is capable of answering her charges with real reasons.
Bagwell is funny throughout, and delivers ridiculous lines with total gravity.

Moran directed his own play. I wonder what another director might have done with it. Moran has made the decision to direct his own work, often, and while that allows him to keep his vision clear, it also means that he doesn’t have another critical eye helping him develop his plays with perhaps some hard questions. It may be a personal bias that I believe playwrights should work with directors, but many other theater practitioners advocate for that, as well.

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