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Tuesday, December 12

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Theater Thu Jun 07 2012

Mortar Theater's Bombs, Babes & Bingo

MortarTheatre_BombsBabesandBingo-StephanieStroudRichardPerezMeganTabaque_PhotoTomMcGrath.jpeg

Mortar Theatre's Bombs Babes and Bingo (L to R) Stephanie Shroud, Richard Perez and Megan Tabaque. Photo by TomMcGrath.

Can the brain lie to itself? The definitive answer is "yes," from taking the obvious and rationalizing it to something else, or completely out of existence, to utter denial of the experience that's had, and having, the brain always lies to itself; it has to, to better serve its host, to keep moving forward. But on occasion, the brain can get stuck on stupid, embedded in an anatomical quagmire where no matter the jumbling of experiences, the jostling of gray matter, memory is faulty, unreliable, manipulative and manipulated. We're "fixed" to enhance to goodness, rationalize away the badness -- or simply forget; three speeds: rationalize, deny, lie -- all set to turbocharged.

Bombs, Babes and Bingo, Mortar Theatre's beyond brava (and I cannot put to fine a point on "beyond" in Meri Biechler's writing and Rachel Edwards Harvith's direction) production kicks off in third speed, the "lie" of the game of bingo -- the company uses a bingo game to determine which of the 3,628,800 versions will be performed each evening; and somehow every version that can bounce to the surface during the 90-minute production fits its story like a glove. You think the on-stage bingo game is kitsch, but it's an amazing plot device driving a stellar cast performing in a perfect storm of theatrical mathematics.

Dennis Davenport (Richard Perez) has taken his scientifically trained brain to become a career bomb maker for the Federation of United Bomb Builders (FUBBA) of America. Their nefarious purpose -- obvious by the name -- means the organization's existence is only known to those in its employ. Dennis's brilliant mind does not give him a pass from entrapment: he courts and marries an unabashedly peacenik bartender Ellen (Stephanie Stroud) and rationalizes that their union will never be compromised because FUBBA executives have the obligatory file on Ellen, and her "open letters" to the nation of China, Iraq and Russia, as well as her veganism prove that Ellen is "disturbed" and no one would believe her if she tried to expose FUBBA and Dennis.

Dennis lies to their daughter Hannah (Erica Cruz Hernandez), the apple of his eye that clings to his tree, wanting to be a scientist "just like daddy," Dennis tells Hannah "We're the good guys," while he veers between rationalizing the "good" of designing bombs that kill X-amount of people, the "bad" of Ellen enrolling in Clown College, revealing that she got counsel from a divorce attorney before their wedding.

Of course the only bomb detonated that really matters is the one that lands Dennis in the hospital; the bomb planted by the "bad guys" that rips his chauffeur to shreds. It is in his rehabbing that the bingo balls go "pop" -- Dennis' brain is trapped in the perfunctory moments of his life -- "memory is almost always wrong"; "people are ruled by their emotions, so their actions are not always mathematical" (especially if the "memories" belong to those spitting our past back at us) -- and yet Dennis' mathematics, perfected to precision upon detonation, yet made slovenly by minutia when applied to his perpetually failed interaction with Ellen, and to Hannah, who so wants to be "like daddy" and "not like mommy" that she becomes lost to herself and the human connection to her family and world. Hannah becomes, to Dennis' horror, "just like daddy."

Because there is the possibility of 3,628,800 versions of BBB, you can attend every night and get a different middle that adds up the opening and closing acts to something wonderful for every performance. Utilizing the word "bomb" in a production title is pretty risky, but I was blown away (yup, I said it!) by the concept, the enactment and the performances. It was absolutely great to see Erica Cruz Hernandez, woefully muted and criminally underused in DGA's Las Hermanas Padilla, present a Hannah who eventually has to prove the one mathematical equation her father has always denied: you cannot get good from evil, the apple is as poisoned as the tree it falls from. Stephanie Stroud multiplies Lucille Ball's physical comedy and Lady Macbeth's survival instinct and sneaks up on us with a presentation of a woman not as over the edge or as controllable as her husband has rationalized her to be, thereby skewing the equations of what Dennis has all figured out so long ago. It's no coincidence that during Dennis' rehab stay, Ellen incarnates as his Nurse Ratchet. Richard Perez successfully delivers a tough job in Dennis, a man who must be ruled "by the numbers," accept the consequences of collateral damage in "trial and error," and insist that his version of sanity and reason are the only versions that matter.

But the bingo basket doesn't make errors, the math is faulty. And when the math is bad the course of events, the equation may change -- like a whole 3,628,800 times -- but the end will remain the same, if only because we cannot rationalize, deny, and lie about our destiny and the road kill along the way.

My friend thanked me for the gift of accompanying me to see Bombs, Babes and Bingo. Indeed, BBB is a gift. More please, and can we get an extended run?

Mortar Theater's Bombs, Babes and Bingo runs through June 17 at Luna Central, 3914 N. Clark St. Tickets and more information can be found here.

 
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