By: Robert E Martin
With Pit & Balcony Community Theatre’s production of playwright John Patrick Shanley’s newly created Pandemic inspired opus Rogues Gallery, audiences of the Great Lakes Bay Region are once again treated to a significant slice of contemporary American theatre that is as equally timely as it is poignant.
Having written some major contemporary works in the theatrical world including Doubt, which went on to win. Pulitzer Prize in Drama, along with his screenplay for Moonstruck, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit hard last March and theaters across the world were forced to shut down, Shanely wrote Rogues Gallery in order to assist the theatrical world by devising a play designed to help theatres stay afloat - releasing the rights to community theaters across the country under the sole condition that all the profits from this production go directly into the Actors Unemployment Fund..
Considering that the last time I stepped into Pit & Balcony was to catch last year’s March production of Steve Martin’s Meteor Shower - another iconoclastic contemporary production about a once-in-a-lifetime event that creates an existential tip of the axis for all characters involved; it was entirely fitting that Pit’s first live production in 11 months would consist of Rogues Gallery
As director Jonah Conner explains in his Director’s Notes to this production: “There have been a lot of changes happening all around us, with the idea of even going outside of our homes a risk. However, the isolation we have endured has also forced us to examine ourselves; specifically, what haunts us.”
Indeed, the collection of characters in Shanley’s COVID-19 opus Rogues Gallery are much like the narratives and understanding of the virus itself, twisted and mutated into individual shapes, forms, and contexts for each of these characters, offering us to view and examine through these bizarre personalities what each of us as individuals and members of a socially distanced community have also weathered and endured in our efforts to escape into a normalcy that as of this writing, is still standing in the mists as an elusive dream.
With a talented and gifted cast consisting of Abby Burgess, Rustin Myers and Colorgio Romello, we are treated to a litany of characters offering meditations about how each of their own personal crisis has in a significant manner, become encapsulated within the larger societal crisis of COVID itself - along with the wreckage wrought through often feeble or futile attempts to respond to it.
With Unknown Caller we are treated to a doomed proposal from a would-be-fiance’ suffering a hangover and awaking to a missing engagement ring; while in Drive we become drawn into the amusing tale of a female club singer tormented within the loneliness of being divorced from the truth of the music and songs that she struggles to give justice to when she sings them; while in Artificial Leg, we meet a homeowner struggling to dispose of a prosthetic leg that he discovers in the basement of his new townhouse. (“Who would leave a leg? Aren’t they missing it? Surely they will return to reclaim it?”)
Perhaps most poignant of all these vignettes for me, however, was Lockdown - the tale of a quarantined woman during the global pandemic who slips away from her boyfriend in order to have a true heart-to-heart conversation with her lover. Although I am paraphrasing here, at one juncture she laments: Parents and old people get freaked about all this disruptive change because they remember a time when making plans actually meant something. They remember when there actually was a tomorrow.”
And finally, in the lengthy soliloquy The Choreographer’s Hand’, we are treated to a pianist prone to visions who unravels a curious sequence of events that pushed him into committing an act of murder from which he was never accused nor discovered, courtesy of fading into the landscape of the Dystopian tapestry that more or less defined the background upon which the act was committed. Needless to say, this is all fairly heady but also mind-cleansing material.
With performances and tickets still available virtually and in-person tonight, Feb. 13th at 7:30 pm and tomorrow on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14th, for a Sunday Matinee at 3:00 PM, I cannot urge you enough to catch the flow of emotion that occurs when one shares the singular experiences flowing through each of these characters heads, that more often than not leads to a commonality and a road we are each all too familiar with.
Source: Review Magazine