Altar Egos

In 10:10, four weddings, two funerals add up to one hot new play

Shortly after saying "I do," Jane, the main character in Ground Zero Theater Company's strange, sexy, wonderful new one-act play 10:10, decides she won't after all. At her wedding reception, Jane locks eyes with Randy, the humpy half-brother of her shlumpy new husband, Gregger. In an impulsive move she will regret even into the afterlife, Jane (played ferociously by both Lulu Ward and Kortney Porter) flees with Randy (Halim Jabbour and Tom Heard) in the wedding limo. Newlywed Gregger (Wm. Paul Williams) is left behind, angry and confused but still tragically in love with his runaway bride.

Like Sam Shepard's sick, sad Fool for Love, 10:10, by Dallas playwright Vicki Caroline Cheatwood, focuses on lovers who are toxic for each other and don't give a damn who gets hurt. Jane and Randy meet and react as violently as forces of nature, willingly diving into a whirling vortex of passion and obsession. Their affair will lead to violence. That's tipped off early on when Dead Jane (Ward) narrates the start of the relationship, saying, "This is all before the fact."

The fact is that she and Randy in a Tux (Jabbour) die at the scene of another wedding, after years of their own on-off coupling. Looking on from beyond the corporeal realm, Dead Jane must rebuild her karma by reliving a series of aborted wedding ceremonies, watching herself in a clingy white gown make that life-altering mistake over and over again. The dead Randy in a Tux, meanwhile, exists in his own special room in purgatory, pacing nervously in a Dallas church as he waits for a bride who will never arrive.

This is a play about animal magnetism and heartbreak, but it's also a smart and original take on ideas of time and eternity. The title, 10:10, the Jane character tells us, refers to the settings of watches in print advertisements and catalogs. With the hands pointed toward the 10s, Jane explains, clock faces just look happier. Imagine those watch hands as human arms and it becomes both the gesture of victory and one of yearning, of reaching desperately to another person the way a child lifts its arms to be held.

Themes of yearning and notions of time stopping and bending into itself are repeated throughout Cheatwood's play. Jane says she is able to make watches stop when she touches them, something to do with an allergy to metal. That's really the playwright underscoring Jane's desire to stop time and start over again, maybe to leave for the honeymoon next time with Gregger, not Randy. Warped time is illustrated on the brilliantly constructed and meticulously painted set by designer Bryan Wofford. On his three-dimensional re-creation of Salvador Dali's familiar "Persistence of Memory," a huge clock melts over a bare tree limb. Upstage, jagged cliffs catch the last rays of sunlight on an endless, but shallow, horizon. It's a gorgeous set that serves the play perfectly and makes fine use of the Bath House Cultural Center's small acting space. It is a work of art on its own.

Time--stopped, bent or moving forward--is not on the side of this play's love-starved characters. The living Jane (Porter) and her lover, Randy Yesterday (Heard), replay their breakups and makeups in a loop of R-rated reruns, each steamy flashback observed and commented on by Dead Jane. She tries to fast-forward the action, but even knowing the awful end of their affair, Dead Jane can't help but get caught up in memories of the heat she shared with Randy. "Little fingertip bruises and the taste of salt," Dead Jane recalls of her illicit trysts with her brother-in-law. "Oh, my heart."

It's a fascinating play and intensely erotic. 10:10also livens up the now-tiresome gimmick of a narrator speaking to the audience, cueing and editorializing each scene. For this, actress Lulu Ward wisely adopts the ironic, detached tone of an overworked guide leading a tour over the landscape of her battered soul. She's touching and funny as she mocks intrusive voiceovers from the Great Beyond.

From the perspective of the afterlife, Dead Jane finally is able to see everyone she knew as they really were. Dead Jane describes Gregger, a bland high school music teacher, looking as if "he'd been pulled through a nozzle backwards." Thoughts tended to pop out of his mouth "like a gumball," she says. Dead Jane notes that the living version of herself was "a block of American cheese." When she mentions Randy's girlfriend Margeaux, she notes "she was every bit the name." For a play steeped in death and sorrow, 10:10 gets a lot of laughs.

Developed over the past four years, starting with a workshop exercise to write a 10-minute play, 10:10 has emerged as a fine piece of theater. It features a fresh writer's voice from Cheatwood, strong performances from all five actors and precise and elegant direction by Ground Zero's Kimberlyn Crowe.

Among the cast, Lulu Ward is the standout as Dead Jane. Whipping around the stage in a wine-splashed, mis-buttoned white shirt and baggy plaid boxers, Ward is one minute the snarling spitfire and the next a purring kitten. She is one of Dallas' best actors but is too often cast in freakish roles that don't show off her exotic beauty. Even in the saggy boxers, Ward is a sultry minx.

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