Monday, February 25, 2013

Theater Review: Dangerous Theatre's 'Dark Wood' Transcendent, Captivating

By Philip Doyle

At the Dangerous Theatre on Friday night, I had the pleasure to sit next to a handsome, well spoken, and buck ass naked man. This guy, I’ll call him BJ, was as friendly as he was exposed. BJ seemed to be an outgoing, seize the day kind of guy. He had enjoyed the boundless freedom of nude horseback riding, twister, and even bowling, and this was his chance to mark “attend the theatre nude” off of his bucket list. I admire people like that, and BJ wasn’t the only member of the audience who chose to attend Winnie Wenglewick’s inspired production of Dark Wood sans clothes.

I was in the small minority of clothed theatregoers on the sold out, one night only, clothing optional for everybody experience. Perhaps next time Winnie offers a nude audience night, my sense of adventure will conquer my modesty. But in the meantime, Dark Wood continues its run and this time just the actors are going au natural.   

Dark Wood tells a rather brilliant tale of three apes in a cage that is a fresh and insightful foray into the human psyche. Peter McGarry’s provocative script is layered with existential themes that address concepts of free will, consciousness, and identity. It grapples with confinement and quest to understand what lies beyond. Reminiscent of Sartre’s No Exit, and Becket’s Godot, McGarry’s Dark Wood evokes meaningful thought while keeping the audience thoroughly entertained. 

Okay now…  Let’s talk about the… um… elephant apes in the room.  The actors are unabashedly nude.  While this could serve as an ever-present distraction, the actors overcome the challenge of being upstaged by their junk swinging to and fro with focused delivery and intent.

I haven’t been around naked men in a rather long time, and frankly I was nervous that I would not be able to focus on the script. So I give mad props to the cast, and Winnie Wenglewick’s direction that never gave me the chance to giggle like a nervous schoolgirl. Dark Wood transcends the flesh.

The cast includes some great performances that weave characteristics of human and primate. Brainard Starling is Mbwane, the wisest and eldest ape.  Mbwane is broken down by age and trial, and is fueled by hope and longing.  Starling is controlled and reserved, delivering a cathartic revelation that had my full attention.

Ben Pelayo portrays the ape named Strong Arm, who challenges the pecking order of the group with brute force. Pelayo is a tough guy, playing on levels that range from violently aggressive to restrained empathy.

Patrick Call plays Rico, the ever inquisitive and constantly horny ape.  Now I have sung the praises of some fantastic performances in the past, but Patrick Call drives this show. Please indulge me while I crack my knuckles and type out an inch or so of accolades for Patrick Call: He is an actor brimming with a joyful enthusiasm for his craft that will engage you. Any actor blessed with the ability to deliver the lines of a script with an authentic conversational grace, with an energy and timing that raises the bar of his fellow cast members, is my flippin’ hero.  Bravo, Mr. Call… Brav-f**king-o.

It is no surprise that I’m a big fan of the Dangerous Theatre. Winnie Wenglewick provides original works with the opportunity to be staged in Denver that would otherwise go unseen. Her emphasis is on originality and not on costly high tech spectacle. There is something inherently beautiful when a good script is presented without the distraction of high polish sets and opulent velvet curtains. It’s a happening, all about the art, low budget, and absolutely invaluable.   

If you’re looking to see an excellent example of what The Dangerous Theatre is all about, or a great example of innovative existential theatre, this is your ticket.

Just remember that Dark Wood is not about the nudity. The flesh is simply a cage that confines us all.
Dark Wood plays through April 26 at The Dangerous Theatre. For reservations call 720-233-4703.