PEGGY PICKIT Offers Intriguing Glimpse Into Life’s Choices (4 Stars)
PEGGY PICKIT SEES THE FACE OF GOD Written by Roland Schimmelpfennig; Directed by Megan Sandberg-Zakian; Set Design by Richard Ouellette; Costume Design by Diego Buscaglia; Presented by Apollinaire Theatre Company at the Apollinaire Theatre in Chelsea at 189 Winnisimmet St., Chelsea through March 1st.
I didn’t know what to expect from Apollinaire Theatre’s U.S. Premiere of the play, PEGGY PICKIT SEES THE FACE OF GOD by Roland Schimmelpfennig, but I was pleasantly surprised and intellectually challenged. “I was horrific. It was wonderful.”
No, not the show. This was the opening theme that began with the line, “It was a catastrophe.” The actors break the fourth wall, not once or twice in small ‘asides,’ but throughout the entire performance. My most distinct memory of this dramatic device is from the 80s movie, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off when actor Matthew Broderick narrates his escapades as Ferris by talking directly to the camera. I wanted to know what each actor from PEGGY PICKIT was going to tell me next about the characters who were meeting in a comfy living room decorated with lamps, flowers, and blanket-draped furniture with throw pillows. The “perfect” room in a “perfect” life – or was it? PEGGY PICKIT kept me guessing as to what was going to happen next in the drama of human relationships.
The fourth wall monologues in PEGGY PICKIT deliver insight into the four characters thoughts about each other and the events that are unfolding, as well as decisions in the past and things that are going to happen. In this way, the foreshadowing adds depth to the timeline as events unravel, but that’s not the only thing unraveling. The lives of the two couples do not hold up to insider scrutiny and disintegrate into the madness of satire. PEGGY PICKIT channels the 1962 Edward Albee play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? which examines the breakdown of the marriage of a middle-aged couple, Martha and George, in a similar way.
Frank (David Anderson) and Liz (Becca A. Lewis) have had a traditional life including marriage, working as doctors, buying a home, and raising their one child, a daughter named Cathy who never appears on stage. They welcome their longtime friends, Martin (Mauro Canepa) and Carol (Danielle Fauteux Jacques), who have just returned to the United States after a six-year Doctors Without Borders-like stint in Africa. Martin and Carol have cared for and deeply loved an African child, named Annie, but were unable to bring her back to the States. Frank and Liz have helped Annie financially and supported her by sending tangible goods. Carol and Liz exchange gifts. Carol has brought a carved, wooden, African sculpture that looks like a doll and is named Ebony. Liz offers a note from Cathy, who is so brilliant that at five she can already write to Annie. Cathy has also bequeathed her favorite toy, a blond haired, white-skinned doll named Peggy Pickit, who has come into vogue during the intervening years.
The friends are “older,” about 41, celebrating their reunion and achievements. The champagne and red wine flows generously as five bottles are uncorked and consumed throughout the performance. The imbiding made me think about how alcohol is used to celebrate, but also to dull senses, loosen the tongue, and isolate oneself from reality. It’s a perfect set up to reveal underlying dynamics. Each couple has issues and each person is dealing with their past decisions and current consequences, a lesson for every human being, especially when beginning one’s career and making choices about family and where/how to live.
The dolls are significant. They beg the questions, “Who is being ‘plastic’? Who is faking and putting on appearances? Who is real?” The couples disagree about whether or not to have vaccinations, stay home or travel, and open/close the garage or help the world, among other things. They cast suspicions upon each other after the most ordinary comments. “How are you?” becomes, “She doesn’t think I’ve amounted to anything.” I was slow on the uptake, but came to realize that the dolls also represented the children of the world who we, adults, are charged to take care of, and in some cases have failed, as well as our own innocent selves, before we had to make the decisions of adulthood. Even the lobby outside has a mobile of broken Barbie dolls hanging in an alcove. It’s a challenge to find, but it’s there: broken dolls, broken lives, and broken political systems. How much has the United States been able to help with the AIDS crisis in Africa? Has it mattered?
How does one deal with stress? Frank tells jokes and listens to music, Carol seethes, Martin drinks, and Liz reverts to her inner child and plays with the dolls. She’s fabulous, using different voices, getting down to the floor level, and making the dolls “walk” around. Mr. Canepa, as Martin, repeats the line, “Have you ever gotten a cut somewhere and the wound just won’t heal?” His stoic delivery resonates an acceptance of a fate he wished he didn’t have. Ms. Fauteux Jacques, as Carol, expounds on the harsh reality of Africa, “We helped people, and afterwards they go and kill each other and set fire to each other and they almost killed us too,” feeling as though she has nothing to show for six years of work – no house, no child, and now, no job. Her anger becomes more and more palpable and her performance intensifies. At the climax of action, a tragedy is revealed while Mr. Anderson, as Frank, plays a Beach Boys album while dancing and joking all the while. We hear the entire song. It’s long. It’s awkward. So is the moment. Ms. Lewis’s facial expressions are marvelous throughout the show. I found myself mesmerized by the minutia of her eyebrows and lips as they told the story through facial expressions. And then she snaps.
The use of humor, irony, and ridicule to criticize people’s choices or vices and expose contemporary politics about the treatment of African people, the consequences of adultery, and the horrors of AIDS isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, though AIDS is never mentioned by name. I also found some of the repetition in the dialogue annoying. Not when it was poetic and emphasizing a point, but when it told a storyline more than once before the events happened in “real time.” It was a mental challenge to keep track of future events, like time traveling, and my capacity was full with everything else going on. However, this seventy-five minute show with no intermission is intriguing and the fourth wall staging is so stylistically unique that it is worth seeing how Schimmelpfennig uses this technique. Chelsea is fortunate to have this neighborhood theatre available, showcasing local talent and premieres, and so close to Boston, too.
One lovely addition to seeing a show at the Apollinaire Theatre is mingling with the cast at a reception in the Gallery after the show. The Gallery is always decorated in a motif reflecting the show. This time, groups of beautiful, hand-painted African dolls graced the walls. I briefly chatted with the performers and was impressed all over again by their stunning skills. A sign of a great actor is to transform into a character that is new and original, and not “you” at all, because what acting is involved in just being yourself? Each artist I met was not like their counterpart, he or she had completely transformed him/herself on stage in manner, facial expression, and voice into the bitter and frustrated half of a couple. Keep in mind that due to strong language, the nature of this show, and it’s subtext, its not recommended for children. For more info go to: http://www.apollinairetheatre.com/productions/productions.html