By JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer on Oct 4, 2012, at 1:46 AM Updated on 10/04/12 at 3:14 AM
At its simplest, “Warm Delicious Play” is the story of a custody battle between two parents of a rather extraordinary child who could be related in some mystical way to a couple of clowns in love with a woman who might be their sister.
Maybe. Or maybe not. When the Midwestern Theater Troupe is out in full creative force, nothing is simple.
“Warm Delicious Play” first saw the light of stage in 2001; for this production, playwright and director John Cruncleton has reworked the script, incorporating portions of an even earlier work, titled “Romolo the Great.”
I did not see either of these plays in their original format, so how much revision has been done is not for me to say. What I can say is that the links that connect the two stories are fragile and perhaps a bit misaligned. Those expecting a neat, Aristotelean wrap-up to all the evening’s events will be disappointed.
But then, conventional theater is not what the Midwestern Theater Troupe is about. This company is about challenging conventions in ways that are more antic than anarchic. One of the ways this theatrical philosophy is expressed is through Cruncleton’s scripts that take ancient stories and characters and gleefully upending them.
That’s what goes on – well, all right, that’s ONE of the things that goes on – in “Warm Delicious Play.” Bits of Greek and Roman mythology (the story of Demeter, whose daughter is kidnapped by Hades, along with that of the twins Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome) serve as the foundation for the show’s two main narrative tangles – tales of deities that get remade in the Midwestern Theater Troupe’s own image.
There is a witch named Honeycut (Sara Cruncleton) searching for her stolen daughter, a search that brings her to a most unusual flea circus where a hyperactive huskster named Trewley (Joseph Gomez) holds forth, assisted and undermined by the brash, compact Remo (Mick Swiney) and the tall, silent Harpocrates (Jeremy Sheldon).
Honeycut’s appearance creates all kinds of problems, most of them for Professor Grimes (John Cruncleton), the wizard behind the circus, who is in charge of a machine that can manipulate space and time and that can produce a magical substance called glop (which is served to the audience in communion trays).
Once the fate of Honeycut’s daughter is determined – more or less – time shifts to what is apparently the past, just in time for the funeral of the father of Remo and Roman (Sheldon), the man who started the circus.
There is more – a LOT more, as it takes nearly three and a half hours for “Warm Delicious Play” to run its course. It’s not as wild a ride as the company’s “Blue Whale of Catoosa,” which was about as long but had enough sustained energy to carry one through the show’s longueurs. Nor is it as gleeful as their version of Aristophanes’ “The Frogs.”
Cruncleton writes compelling monologues, and the cast delivers them with energy and surprising subtlety. Cruncleton himself brings a kind of Ronald Colman suaveness to his villainy as Grimes, while Chris Williams, as the blind sage Admiral Thumb, intones his observations with a refined world-weariness that is just about perfect.
Gomez may sacrifice clarity for speed, but his rapid-fire patter of his tongue-twisting speeches is impressive. And Sheldon brings an innocence and poignancy to his silent clown that gives these bizarre events a needed human dimension.
When scenes require the give and take of real dialogue, however, the results aren’t so good. The extended verbal warfare among Sheldon, Swiney and Sara Wilemon as Sabine is full of misfires, especially with Sheldon, who gives every line the same petulant intensity.
But then, every risk contains within it the potential for failure. “Warm Delicious Play” may not completely cohere into a tasty theatrical dish, but one can’t help but admire the diligence of its preparation and the fineness of many of its ingredients.
“Warm Delicious Play” continues with performances at 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday and Oct. 12-13 at the Nightingale Theater, 1416 E. Fourth St. Tickets are $10 at the door