Marcus Is Walking
Quick, name ten things you can do in a car. Joan Ackermann's play, Marcus Is Walking looks like it was the result of such a brainstorming session. It is comprised of eleven comic vignettes, having in common only the fact that they take place in cars. In its more banal moments, the play covers such territory as a husband and wife fighting over directions and a dating couple having sex in the back seat. But when Ackermann tries for more unusual car-related scenes, the show gets moving.
The three best scenes in the play are all in the first act. The showpiece features three teenage schoolgirls who accidentally run over a chipmunk. The driver is guilt-ridden and overly emotional, as she concludes her senseless murder of one of God's creatures is merely a manifestation of the destruction wrought to the natural world by human industry. One of her passengers is sympathetic and tries to soothe the driver, tenderly explaining that it wasn't her fault that the chipmunk happened to dart in front of the car. The third girl doesn't understand why her friends are making such a big deal about a freakin' chipmunk when she's failing English, and could they possibly forget about the rodent and explain to her the symbolism of Moby Dick? The scene is successful due to Ackermann's perfect mastery of modern teenage girl dialogue (including a sarcastic "Duh") and an inspired performance by Sharia Pierce as the self-centered passenger.
The chipmunk scene is followed by a unique piece featuring Ira Steck (pictured at right) as an actor trying to rehearse his lines from Hamlet while snarfing down a pizza on his way to the theatre. When merging traffic interferes, he initially interrupts his soliloquies to respond to passing motorists in good old reliable street language. But as the scene progresses, his Hamlet begins to take over in his interactions with other drivers. By itself, this would be a cute concept, but Ackermann throws in a Russian taxi driver with an adorable miscommand of American expletives, which cranks it up a notch on the hilarity meter.
The third memorable scene is the one from which the play gets its title. It features a father driving his six-year-old son from house to house for trick-or-treating. As the boy eagerly runs to each house, the father calls his wife on his cell phone and does a play-by-play report of Marcus walking to the door, Marcus grabbing an extra handful of candy corn, and Marcus just barely avoiding the children dressed at witches (who frighten him). It is again Ackermann's realistic dialogue that elevates this scene, humorously capturing the inanities of overprotective parents dealing with the difficulties presented by suburban Halloween -- punctuated by a cell phone that keeps dropping the call.
The remainder of the scenes range from merely mundane to particularly unfunny. Ackermann's final scene, involving a family on a fall foliage road trip, attempts to get most of its comedy from a great-grandmother character repeatedly passing wind in the car. This is simply unworthy of the character-based humor in the rest of the play. The show's attempt at a touching scene, in which a man wallowing in self-pity and alcohol unexpectedly reaches out to the homeless woman who has been living in his car, is unconvincing in both plot and character. And twice in the evening, the acting stops for a dance sequence only tangentially related to cars. Each time, it involves a solo dancer, portraying a "regular" guy or gal, expressing a single emotion, through fairly simple steps. When it happens in the first act, it is at best a sweet distraction. When repeated in the second act, it is a concept that has already outlasted its welcome.
While the second act drags on, one wonders why Ackermann chose to add a second dance sequence, rather than revisiting some of the interesting characters from the first act. The Hamlet-quoting actor was certainly worthy of a repeat performance. As it stands, none of the scenes in the second act compare to the charming moments in the first.
Blue Sphere Alliance, Anthony Barnao, Artistic Director, presents Marcus Is Walking, Written by Joan Ackermann; Directed by Rich Embardo. The show runs at the Lex Theatre in Hollywood, Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m., thru August 25, 2002. Tickets are $15. For reservations and information, call (323) 957-5782.
Lighting Designer Cris Capp; Set Designer Dave Moore; Sound Designers George Calfa & Kelley Rogers. Cast: Steve Bakken, Earl Carroll, John Scott Clough, Chris Devlin, Janie Haddad, Victoria Hoffman, Jenni Kirk, Sharia Pierce, Julie Shimer, and Ira Steck.
Photo by Becky Meister