Canned Peaches in Syrup
Canned Peaches takes place sometime in the (hopefully very) distant future, where a merciless sun beats down on a barren land, and even the primitive tribes that had taken the place of nations have disbanded, leaving scattered nomads roaming the desert seeking nourishment and not much else. In the absence of any actual plant growth, the vegetarians chew on tasteless roots; in the absence of livestock, the carnivores scavenge insects and ... vegetarians.
But in this play – in which people would murder for the dented fruit can of the title – the audience is intended to laugh at the bleak future in which its characters exist. There's funny when Ma, the vegetarian, explains to her husband that there may be something wrong with her digestive system, and Pa thoughtfully responds, "Pink shit don't sound right." There's funny when an itinerant holy man introduces himself with a perfectly Python-esque, "They call me Blind Bastard." And there's funny when the small group of cannibals casually discuss their plans to eat their sick friend as soon as he dies, and the future meal is actually taking part in the conversation.
The cast is largely effective, with standout performances by Robert Pescovitz as the vegetarian patriarch who willingly accepts the responsibility of keeping his wife and daughter safe in a hostile world; Laura Raynor as his wide-eyed, still-believing wife; and Libby West as a sometimes sarcastic, cutting cannibal who has absolutely no concern for other people except as food for herself.
Dan Jenkins's lighting design is heavy on oppressive orange and makes it easy to believe this is a land that hasn't seen rain in a very long time indeed. Brian Danner's fight choreography is energetic and the performers attack it (and each other) with relish. Bonus points also to Doug Newell's sound design – and the choice of music leading in and out of the intermission is some of the funniest I've heard in a theatre.
In some ways, it's a harder play to pull off than The Lieutenant of Inishmore. Canned Peaches in Syrup can sicken its audience just as easily as it can generate awkward, uncomfortable laughter – and neither response is really ideal. Director Dámaso Rodriguez has a very small target to aim at between these two extremes, and he sometimes misses. And yet, the production manages to hit about half the time – and once or twice, it verges on the sublime. In the midst of the goofy courtship between two characters who have never seen romance ("Ma!" she says excitedly, "He wants to fuck me!") ... in the midst of the hungry cannibals fighting over whether to kill their friend before his flesh becomes too diseased to eat ... in the midst of the con man trying to end up with the last remaining can of fruit ... somewhere, deep down, this play ruminates on basic questions of human nature. And when it does, it's easy to understand why Jones ultimately set his play in this dark future – because, even though it's sick, and even though it's funny, there is nothing more basic than the desire to survive, and no better place to address it than a world where everything is about survival, and the most "civilized" thing people can do is take the pledge not to eat other people. The play takes an awful lot of time to get there, but when it does, it has a few moments that will stay with you long after you leave the theatre ...
... with a hankering for some sticky sweet peaches ...
... or a great big slab of meat.
Canned Peaches in Syrup runs at the Carrie Hamilton Theatre upstairs at the Pasadena Playhouse through November 10. For information, see www.savethepeaches.com or www.furioustheatre.org.
Furious Theatre Company presents Canned Peaches in Syrup by Alex Jones. Directed by Dámaso Rodriguez. Production Stage Manager Sudro Brown II; Assistant Director/Dramaturg Megan Goodchild; Scenic Design Melissa Tech; Lighting Design Dan Jenkins; Costume Design Christy M. Hauptman; Sound Design/Original Music Doug Newell; Fight Choreographer Brian Danner; Associate Producer Chris Blake; Hair and Makeup Design Christa McCarthy; Scenic Artist Glen R. Johnson; Graphic Design Eric Pargac; Set Construction Glen R. Jonson, Jerad Whitley; Props Design Christy M. Hauptman; Marketing and Publicity David Elzer/DEMAND PR; SFX Props Construction Liz Pisano; Program Design Jonathan Sultemeier; Website Design Stephen Giem & Hoon Kim; Additional Program Content Ina Rometsch.