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Whammy! The Seven Secrets to a Sane Self: Theater Review - Ladue News: Arts & Entertainment

Whammy! The Seven Secrets to a Sane Self: Theater Review

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Posted: Tuesday, December 6, 2011 4:12 pm | Updated: 12:06 pm, Wed Dec 7, 2011.

Story: A quintet of people known as the Quimbies congregates in an amorphous area while Dr. G exists in a catatonic state on the perimeter. Who exactly are the Quimbies? Are they figments of Dr. G’s fertile imagination? Do they embody his thoughts and dreams? Do they have any purpose or raison d’etre? What do the series of illustrations in the background represent? And why does Dr. G look so thoroughly depressed and despondent? What are the reasons for his malaise, and is there any hope to alleviate his spirits?

Highlights: Hold onto your seat and scratch your head as you enter the convoluted world of Dr. G as conceived, written and directed by HotCity associate director Chuck Harper. Harper’s expanded title continues with “or Some Things That All People Ought to Know About the Nature and Function of the Self: Its Place in the Economy of Life, Its Proper Training and Its Righteous Exercise.” Say what?

Harper’s 80-minute, one-act exercise in mental gymnastics is described in the news release as a “madcap multi-media dance-theatre comic exploration of self-help, sexual dysfunction, 1960s dance parties, obsessive-compulsive disorder, pharmaceutical bliss and suicide.” No wonder Dr. G is in a zombie-like trance.

Other Info: Harper’s director’s notes include a reference to “Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 comic film It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.” Actually, it was a 1963 flick directed by Stanley Kramer, although both Stanley K’s had impressive oeuvres.

Anyway, Harper asks “what would happen if you took the idea of ‘self-help’ and the industry that surrounds it, smashed it together with…Mad World and then looked at this smash-up through the lens of a dream.” His less-than-lucid text cites sources on sexual addiction, depression, suicide and “the agony of being.” Apparently, too much thought and not enough action makes Jack a confused boy.

After 80 minutes of observation, I confess that I have little clue as to what transpired on stage. It did appear to have elements of performance art and avant garde artistic expression where no human has gone before. A considerable amount of time and talent went into the elaborate and complex “Whammy doodles” created by collaborator Mikey Butane, who also contributed the “Whammy dances,” which I presume means the choreography, although Maggie Conroy is credited with the “Whammy flow,” so I’m not sure.

Harper provides the disparate tunes that fill Dr. G’s troubled psyche, and the bland world of white in Lex Van Blommestein’s “Whammy world” is illuminated by Jim Wulfsong, including a pedestal with a solitary banana and an array of folding chairs, cloths and other accoutrements dangling from the ceiling. Marcy Weigert provides the anti-septic togs adorning the players, all variations of white save for Dr. G’s black sneakers and a pair of red sneakers for Julie Venegoni’s plaintive tap dance.

Dr. G is played in mostly unresponsive fashion by Jeff Skoblow, complete with furrowed brow. The curious Quimbies are comprised of Harper, Venegoni, Conroy, Greg Fenner and Kate Frisina, each of whom takes a turn relaying a story to the audience about some deep, dark secret at the core of Dr. G’s heart of darkness. Plus, they give new meaning to the line, “Is that a banana or are you just happy to see me?”

HotCity’s release notes, “With the success of Chuck’s devised piece The Probe at the Prague Fringe Festival, HotCity is currently looking to perform Whammy! internationally in the near future.” Good luck with that. You have the opportunity to witness the professional premiere of Whammy! and decide for yourself what the anticipated hoopla really, really means.

Rating: A 3 on a scale of 1-to-5

Group: HotCity Theatre GreenHouse Series with Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville’s Department of Theatre and Dance

Venue: Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand

Dates: December 8, 9, 10

Tickets: $10-$15; no reservations taken. Information at 289-4063 or hotcitytheatre.org

Photos courtesy of Lex Van Blommestein

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