Wellman plays are intense and profane

Theater

December 19, 1996|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Sincerity. Sounds like a virtue, right?

But what if the folks being sincere are ignorant? What if they know they're ignorant and sincerely don't care?

That's the setup for Mac Wellman's dark comedy, "Sincerity Forever," receiving its local premiere at AXIS Theatre in a double bill with another short Wellman comedy, "A Murder of Crows."

These aren't plays for those seeking a lite nite out. Not only is the language profane enough to remove paint, but the points Wellman makes -- lambasting hypocrisy, ignorance and self-absorption -- are equally intense.

To Wellman, theater without controversy is apparently not theater at all. He dedicated both "Sincerity Forever" and another of his plays (produced here in 1994 and bearing an unprintably profane title) to Sen. Jesse Helms and Rev. Donald E. Wildmon. They were not amused. But they were very sincere.

"Sincerity Forever" begins with various Southern townsfolk sitting two-by-two, garbed in Ku Klux Klan robes, on the hood of a wrecked car. They babble about everything from the meaning of life to nuclear pollution, only to conclude that God's master plan is that mankind remain "ignorant forever in absolute sincerity."

There are flies in the ointment of their sincere self-satisfaction, however. Their bigoted little town has been beset by "mystic furballs" -- Brian Chetelat and John W. Ford black-lighted in silver ski jackets -- who represent the "spirit of negation."

That's not all. Jesus H. Christ has come back in the flesh to give all these benighted souls a talking to. If the character's name sounds blasphemous, consider that Jesus H. Christ is portrayed by a black woman (Judi Anderson). And, if you think Wellman's choice of casting is blasphemous, it probably says more about you than the play -- or so the playwright contends.

Knee-jerk reactions aside, "Sincerity Forever" is a moralistic work at heart. Jesus H. Christ's final speech is a very loose adaptation of the Sermon on the Mount. That means, by definition, that it's preachy, but it also makes this play slightly more accessible than "A Murder of Crows."

The second work focuses on a family beset with hardships. Nella's husband was killed by an avalanche of a radioactive substance (which is, again, unprintable in a family newspaper). Her son returned from the Gulf War more a statue than a person (he's gilded, and his mom uses him as a sundial). Her daughter, the protagonist (Bethany Hoffman), "never quite evolved from a troubled state of adolescent development," though she apparently has some unusual meteorological talents.

The family's financial straits have forced them to live with relatives -- husband and wife gamblers (hilariously played by Bruce Nelson and Darlene Deardorff) whose extreme good luck seems to stem from a rivet stuck in the wife's forehead.

And oh yes, there are those crows -- a singing and dancing quartet decked out in gas masks and rustling trash bags. It helps to know that "a murder of crows" is the term for a group of crows, as in "a gaggle of geese" or "a pride of lions." In other words, no birds are killed in this play. If anything, they are role models since, unlike the lost humans, the birds seem to be looking for answers.

This is not easy material to get through -- either for the audience or the actors -- and it's further complicated by long monologues, many of which overlap. The cast does an admirable job, under the direction of Brian Klaas, who links the plays together by transforming Anderson's Jesus character into an unscripted angel in the second half.

Wellman's work is an acquired taste, however. Both of these plays come at you like a barrage of verbiage. But if you sit back and let them wash over you, you'll find you've been hit with nothing more extraordinary than a pair of cautionary tales, more daring in style than substance. And, despite AXIS' best efforts, plowing through the style to get to the substance is a chore.

Wellman plays

What: "Sincerity Forever" and "A Murder of Crows"

Where: AXIS Theatre, 3600 Clipper Mill Road

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; matinee at 2 p.m. Jan. 12. Through Jan. 12

Tickets: $12 and $14

Call: (410) 243-5237

Pub Date: 12/19/96

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