"Petrified Forest" (Strawdog Theatre): Rooted in a lot of Scary Woulds

"Petrified Forest" (Strawdog Theatre): Rooted in a lot of Scary Woulds

#44.  Anyone who has ever waited tables knows the pain of a boring shift.  The clock slowly ticks it down.  You fantasize that the next customer is going to: leave a whopping tip,   sweep you off your feet, blow the place up or all of the above.  You just want something to change everything.

Strawdog Theatre presents PETRIFIED FOREST.  It’s the depression and people are stuck. They see their fantasy life from their reality. Gabby is an artist waiting tables.  Boze is a football player pumping gas.  Alan is a writer marrying money.  A legionnaire, a debutant, a millionaire are all miserable with current conditions.  They are looking to be rescued from themselves.  When their roadside cafe is held up by a notorious gangster, the hostages assess what is worth dying for and more importantly living for.  PETRIFIED FOREST is rooted in a lot of scary woulds.

Not surprising Playwright Robert E. Sherwood would eventually become one of FDR’s favorite speechwriter.    Sherwood’s FOREST (I couldn’t resist) has multiple speeches about a better life for Americans.  A plethora of characters are looking for love, redemption and a way out.  The story starts out slow-diner-shift and escalates into a volatile crime scene. Director Shade Murray paces it with a simmer to boil climax. Murray does a masterful job staging 17 cast members on a fairly small stage. This restaurant is full of characters. One of my favorites is Walther Brody (gramp).  Brody brings the ornery old coot factor.  He’s hilarious. Jamie Vann (Duke Mantee) presides over the captives with amused authority.  For a villain, Vann is very amicable.   At the heart of the story is a love triangle.  Caroline Neff (Gabby) puts it out there.  Neff engages with a wistful and wishful demeanor.  Gabby’s floozy ways must have been a shocker in the play’s premiere.  To a contemporary audience, she’s heartbreaking.  Neff effectively tugs at the romantic inside all of us.  The target of her affection is Paul Fagen (Alan).  Fagen delivers his monologues with arrogance and authenticity.  He connects the audience to his epiphanies.   Fagen’s wonderment feels genuine.  His competition for the girl is Shane Kenyon (Boze).  Kenyon is endearing holding on to his football glory days.  Kenyon plays a loud-mouthed dolt perfectly.  The entire ensemble fills the stage for an epic spectacle.

The story is interesting.  The dialogue is a little dated.  It bodes of a simpler time when people spoke of love, honor, and America with conviction.  Because of the hefty soliloquies, the material could have become cartoonish.  Under Murray’s respectful direction, it stays true to another era.  PETRIFIED FOREST is a sincere look into America’s past.  It’s a contemplation on the good old days that weren’t always good for the people living through it.

Always up for political propaganda, Cridlin describes it with ‘a little flat.’

Photo by: Leigh Loftus

Running Time:  Two hours and five minutes includes an intermission

At Strawdog Theatre, 3829 N. Broadway

Written by Robert E. Sherwood

Directed by Shade Murray

Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8pm

Sundays at 4pm

Thru March 31st

Buy Tickets at www.strawdog.org


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