As the 20th century draws to a close, one man dares to break through the prison of his psyche to create a world in which he will thrive at one with nature in John Guare's wildly absurd sociological study, "Marco Polo Sings a Solo," on stage in the UMBC Theatre through Saturday.
All things considered, the university's staging of the play is a commendable theater-of-the-absurd presentation.
Guare is the author of the tragi-comedy "The House of Blue Leaves" and the current acclaimed "Three Degrees of Separation," now running in New York.
UMBC director Alan Kreizenbeck and cast have neatly captured the wonderful sense of the ridiculous for which Guare is noted. It is the end of a century and a legendary time for mass gloom.
The characters in this play are on the verge, desperately longing for a "greater something" that will give them the glory they are seeking.
But they are terrified of breaking out of their comfortable mind-sets to take a chance on flying solo into the unknown mysteries of the universe.
The work is set on the white iceberg coldness of a Norwegian island in the year 1999. The world is embroiled in an eroding, chaotic madness created by the excessive, self-serving power interests of "civilized" man.
There are no walls on designer Richard Montgomery's excellent abstract set. The freedom is there for the taking but only one makes the successful transition from childhood behavior to true maturity. He is Stony McBride, a film producer dedicated to making a movie about the brave, new adventures of Marco Polo that will create a new vision for the 21st century.
His own life is in convoluted turmoil. His wife, a frustrated former classical pianist, is having an affair with an ambitious politician who is hoarding a cure for cancer to use for political expediency. Stony's father, a shallow, temperamental actor, is causing trouble on the film set.
Stony's mother is a confused creature torn between her past as a man and her role as a woman.
His great hero is Frank Schaeffer, a technological space messiah uncovering the wonders of the cosmos. When Frank lands on earth to find his "bride" whom he has impregnated with a "super being" seed, Stony takes off in the spacecraft on a soul-searching psychedelic quest for truths.
Yet he finds no answer in infinity. Ultimately Stony discovers the sadness of those around him waiting for a future that will never come. He decides to shake the shackles of the past to take up the realistic challenges of life.
Although the UMBC version is quite good it could stand a more sophisticated high comedy style of delivery played to the hilt with no solemn, dramatic undertones (as is the playwright's intent).
James Brown-Orleans shines as the opportunistic politician frantically searching for his lost "cure" for cancer. Laurie Martin offers a good portrait of a woman on the edge in the role of the neurotic, self-absorbed wife.
John Benedictus convinces as the narcissistic father. Believable performances are given by Tony Gallahan as Stony's disabled and cynical film assistant and Alan Aymie as the almighty Frank Schaeffer. Rosanne C. Lucarelli amuses as the bumbling, bouncing maid.
Rick Lowe brings a fine perplexity to the role of Stony but he is a bit too serious for this dimensional, surrealistic philosopher.
As Stony's mother Linda Stein gives a hilarious performance as a woman caught between the genders. The futuristic costumes by Elena Zlotescu are wonderfully creative.
The New Century Theatre is offering for the second year their version of the Leslie Bricusse musical, "Scrooge" (based on Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol"), through Dec. 22.
Unevenly directed by Brian Chetelat (who plays a jolly good Christmas Present) this production is not up to the standards the company set last year for the show. However, Mark Redfield again turns in a superb performance as the sour-hearted Ebenezer Scrooge.
Brandon Park is deliciously chilling as Jacob Marley. Jimi Kinstle sparkles as the optimistic but poor Tom Jenkins, and Ted R. Frankenhauser is doubly good as cheerful Mr. Fezziwig and scurrilous old Joe.