BACK STAGE WEST
August 07, 1997
ALL SAINTS' DAY
at Theatre of NOTE
Reviewed by Rob Kendt
Playwright Hank Bunker's All Saints' Day has everything going for it--rich characters and conflicts, a distinctively unsettling tone, twisting veins of subtext, a keen observational eye--except dramatic action. Indeed, it's almost as if this world premiere production under director Susan Fenichell has all the elements of a startlingly original play without the actual play.
The script follows the abortive interaction of two aimless Midwestern brothers (Brad Kalas and Matthew Blair) with the twin daughters of a messed-up middle-class family whose matriarch (Pamela Gordon) is a blowsy drunk and whose patriarch (James Massey) is a gruff, gun-wielding lapsed Catholic.
Their religion is not incidental here; indeed, apart from some wry tweaking of the church, Bunker appears quite straight-facedly concerned about the workings of divine grace in a fallen world. That, at least, seems to be the point of having the youngest scion of the family, a precocious nine-year-old Boy Scout (Terin Jackson), interrogate his elders about Limbo and the eternal soul, and to make one of the twins (Danielle Bourgon) a tremulous visionary who can smell water and once talked to God.
But the apparent test case for divine grace--a tense loafer played with one and a half notes (slow burn and fizzle) by Kalas--is an extraordinarily uncompelling fellow. And the play's second act, which takes place on the spiritually significant night of Halloween, is bulldozed by a drawn-out drunken aria by a "pagan" tycoon (Carl J. Johnson) who's marrying into the family; his swilling effrontery would be a lot funnier and less unpleasant if Bunker and Johnson didn't sketch him with such evident contempt. And, after all its hints of profound transgression and its shifting perspectives, the play climaxes with a remarkably half-hearted and pedestrian moment of domestic melodrama.
Denise Poirier's set and Audrey Fisher's costumes nearly perfectly capture late-20th-century suburban kitsch, and they're lit with obstinate two-dimensionality by Dan Reed. But Fenichell's pacing is ponderous and her casting perverse. Only Blair, Bourgon, Jackson, and Jerri White (as a poorly used black maid) seem to serve their parts as written. But then, that's the real problem here: The writing itself would best be served by sharper shaping all around. If Bunker wants us to take his themes seriously, he should take his craft a little more seriously, as well.
"All Saints' Day," presented by and at Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood. Aug. 1-Sept. 6. (213) 856-8611.