When my sisters and I were kids, this woman approached us at the Elkhart 4-H Fair and asked, “If you died tonight, would you go to heaven?” We said that we didn’t know and followed her into a tent where we became victims of a Jesus-saves revival. Looking back I laugh, but that day, we were terrified of the bible-thumping, tongues-speaking, spirit-slaying hoopla.
The Mammals present DON’T GIVE THAT BEAST A NAME. Frank lives in small, rural-ville. He hangs out with the gang at the local tavern. His best friend, Tinker Bell, is a cross-dressing mute. He is a simple man with limited means and needs. One day, a mysterious woman wanders into his town, his pub, and his life. He is so smitten with Marie that their whirlwind romance leads to marriage followed by a baby. His life seems complete until he realizes it isn’t. He finds solace and salvation at The Barn, the local snake handling church. Marie protests his involvement. Is it because she fears losing him to a cult or is it because she is dealing with her own past demons? DON’T GIVE THAT BEAST A NAME is a man stumbling under-the-influence and a woman trying to break his fall.
Playwrights Randall Colburn and Bob Fisher use “Woyzeck” written by Georg Büchner to provide the framework of this play. This time, the authority = religion and working class = Appalachian poor. Colburn and Fisher make worlds collide. Frank and Marie meet in an upbeat dive bar. They make a home together in the backwoods. Then Frank is recruited by a sleazy zealot. And Marie is stalked by an underworld presence. Their uncomplicated lives crash head-on into the convoluted, danger zone. The contrasting arenas make it seem phantasmagorical. Are these people and/or beasts for real? Under the direction of Bob Fisher, the cast take the plunge into the unknown. The talented ensemble goes from pub frolicking to prayer meeting wailing. Fisher uses multiple blackouts to heighten the drama and creepy factor. When lights come up, a converted believer is kneeling at our feet obsessively talking to Jesus. It’s startlingly. In the final few scenes, it's confusing... as I incorrectly anticipate the ending during each blackout.
In the lead, Gabe Garza (Frank) is a big lumberjack type easily swayed by a pretty face or pretty talk. Garza is an amicable doofus that garners concern. He plays it perfectly as a hero in crisis. The audience never stops rooting for him. A determined Erin Elizabeth Orr (Marie) takes on anybody and anything. Orr delivers an amazingly complex performance with a gamut of emotional outbursts. And she does most of her confrontation holding onto her baby. The imagery is powerful! Sean Ewert (Tinkerbell) is the *it* factor. Ewert is unsettling and unforgettable. His yelps of pain sounded inhuman. Who is he?
Trying to identify who is the real source of evil makes DON’T GIVE THAT BEAST A NAME an intriguing game. It’s a thought-provoking descent into human frailty and the choices that could damn us for eternity.
Running Time: Two hours and ten minutes includes an intermission
At Zoo Studios, 4001 N. Ravenswood
Written by Randall Colburn and Bob Fisher
Directed by Bob Fisher
Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm
Through November 3rd
More information at www.chicagomammals.com