by Pamela Butler · August 17, 2014
Welcome to Circus Circus Penitentiary where the inmates are serving sentences for being proven dangerous to society or, in our protagonist’s case, for having been caught up in the “war on drugs”. Robert, played by one of the writers, Eric Welch, is a sweet, loving guy who sold pot and got caught.
He’s here in front of us, center stage, with four other prisoners, each with a silver chair in a dark corner, the symbol of their confinement.
Warden Gordon (Eric Bryant), the Ring Master, is thoroughly enjoying his limelight status, surrounded by his favorite scumbags. He introduces them with enthusiasm and a showman’s energetic stage presence while he proceeds to torment and humiliate them.
Playwright Brian David Walker has wrought a tale of misguided justice and what it’s like to be in prison with hard core criminals and sadistic guards. Warden Gordon seems gleeful putting these “monsters” through their paces as we find out who they are and why they are here. Actors Gonçalo Ruivo as Mario, Basil Rodericks as Paul, Alex Teicheira as Opie and Kiel Perry as Kyle, all do their criminal characters justice, in the way they move, cower, rage and despair.
Robert, your average easy going guy with a great girlfriend, Angela (Lisa Kitchens), is serving a few years, the exact sentence not given, and spends his time writing love letters to Angela and waiting for news of his parole. Angela gives her support and love by visiting, being bubbly and optimistic and writing her own passionate and spicy correspondence. Around them, in the edges of light, the others suffer, writhe and act out their despair.
Robert, in the middle, never seems to lose his light and relaxed demeanor. That may come as no surprise since he and Angela are pot smokers and generally embrace its more positive effects.
In a well honed hour and fifteen minutes we see a clear and dramatic picture of how the crime of pot selling is hardly on a par with far more serious crimes and that maybe jail is not the best punishment.
The American public is moving towards acceptance of marijuana, as it has by and large accepted gay people and their civil rights, but people still languish in jail for dealing pot and more often than not they are minorities. The play advocates for more thought on the issue, more debate and more true justice.
The production values here are creative and well executed, and director Christopher Mirto does a very nice job of staging the action and creating a poetry of grinding prison existence, putting Robert’s optimistic expectation of parole in sharp relief. The work of choreographer Brenna Palughi keeps the ensemble moving with intensity and muscular anguish while our ringmaster struts and carries on his sarcastic torment.
Alan C. Edwards creates a cold landscape sharply lit. Costume designer Nicole Slaven enhances the poetry of emptiness with her uniform and colorless prison clothes. Craig Davis, provides the haunting sounds of prison life. All work well together.
There is some humor but prison isn’t funny and Circus Circus paints a powerful picture of just what could happen to nice guys who fall victim to punishments that hardly fit the crime.
It all works and is worth the price of admission to see a well wrought piece of stage craft.