Meshugge and Spice

Jewish holidays, Dixie-style, in Ballyhoo; love's crazy in Theatre Quorum's Lights

There's a cute nurse named Tina (Christie Beckham) in the bar, and she seems willing to be, as she puts it to Chris, "the last person you'll ever meet." But the play instead introduces another character, Angie (Lauren Embrey), a single mother of two who is a good 10 years older than Chris and has been paid by Charlie to "date" the sick man twice a week until Christmas Eve, when Jackie the whore makes her annual phone call. Angie's job is to play up her "romance" with Chris to make Jackie jealous.

For reasons never clear in the dialogue and most definitely not depicted through any discernible chemistry between the actors, Chris falls instantly in love with dowdy Angie and she with him. Each successive scene nudges them closer to Christmas Eve and, we're pretty sure, to the moment when Chris will drop dead at Angie's feet. He seems to get sicker and sicker, but since we've never seen him in a lucid moment—something that would help the audience warm up to Chris and feel some empathy—it's hard to tell.

It's a noisy piece of melodrama, dizzy with plot stumbles and fuzzily defined relationships (for the first hour, I thought Charlie and Chris were brothers). But when the characters aren't wailing and gnashing their teeth over Chris' impending demise, Dim can be witty. Take this exchange between the guys:

Adolph Freitag (Randy Pearlman) pretends to like the holiday sweater knitted for him by his sister-in-law Reba (Cindee Mayfield) in The Last Night of Ballyhoo.
Adolph Freitag (Randy Pearlman) pretends to like the holiday sweater knitted for him by his sister-in-law Reba (Cindee Mayfield) in The Last Night of Ballyhoo.

Details

The Last Night of Ballyhoo continues through December 31 at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, 214-828-0094.

Dim All the Lights continues through December 16 at the Bath House Cultural Center, 214-821-5304.

Charlie: "The last time I tried fixing you up with a woman, you spit on her."

Chris: "She was on fire."

Charlie: "She was smoking."

There are lots of funny little asides. Chris agonizes that cancer has caused his memory to erase key bits of personal info, like his pet name for his penis. Then he remembers: T.J. Hooker. Trying to sweet-talk Angie, he senses that a piece of personal medical equipment under his clothes needs tending to. "After I empty my bag, I want to really get to know you," he says.

Stuff like that is choice, and would that Dim All the Lights had more of it. Instead, it buckles under the playwright's attempt to overwhelm us with torrents of dialogue when what we're craving is more meaningful storytelling. When Chris' alcoholic, domineering mother, Christine (Lisa Fairchild), blows in to scream about who's going to get her son's bank account when he dies—Jackie the whore? Angie?—it's time to turn out the lights. The party's over.

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