Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

The Art of Raising Anything
The Vortex Theatre
Review by Carole C. Sullivan

Also see Dean's review of Something Rotten! and Carole's recent review of Silent Sky

Zane Barker, Molly Barker and Michel Weppler
Photo by Broken Chain
Mounting a new play is a daunting and exciting experience. Staging a new, unproduced play by a relatively unknown playwright is always a risk. The Vortex Theatre should be commended for selecting The Art of Raising Anything by John Dayton Cerna for this season and giving it a stellar production.

The play is an exploration of anger, rage, and loss in a small, forgotten, dying town in the Midwest. The fictional town of Dismuke is besieged by economic despair and unemployment. A widowed, unemployed father struggles to raise his teenage son and daughter. With few resources, he pins his hopes for the future on winning a bottle cap contest, a promotion by a soda company that goes awry when there are too many winning bottle caps, and the contest is voided. The creator of the contest, Cathy Bloomfeld, arrives to make amends to the enraged people who live there. She is unprepared for the anger and frustration she finds, just as she is unprepared for the feelings of love and loss from her own life that this encounter evokes.

Director Peter Parkin has selected a strong cast to bring this new play to life. It's a bit of a family affair with Zane Barker as the father, Walter, and Molly and Nicholas Barker as his children, Darlene and Charlie. The challenging role of Cathy is played by Lorri Layle Oliver, director Parkin's wife. Veteran Albuquerque actor Michael Weppler embodies Toady, Walter's friend who is also frustrated by his station in life and serves as a stand-in for the whole town.

All of the actors deliver outstanding performances. The young cast members are to be commended for turning in understated and very nuanced portrayals. Lorri Oliver grows in the role from frustration to loss to her own rage to love and forgiveness. She handles these transitions with ease, and is a very accomplished and seasoned actress. Zane Barker's Walter is a little over the top in some scenes but on balance very effective. Michael Weppler brings humor with his hapless depiction of Toady and nearly steals the scenes he is in.

The production team delivers a handsome, workable set; thoughtful, effective costumes; and appropriate sound, lighting and special effects. There is fire, there is a trick cabinet that falls down, and there are music cues to sync. It all comes off without a hitch.

To my knowledge this is the first production of this play with the possible exception of a reading. There is so much going on in the script of The Art of Raising Anything that one is nearly overwhelmed trying to take in all the contemporary themes and problems it tackles. It reflects frustrations in contemporary American society including class divides and racism, poverty and unemployment, family dysfunction, corporate greed, opioid addiction, and modern technology to name a few.

The script also explores each character's back story in some detail. We meander a bit in everyone's emotional problems. Some of these tangents slow the play down.

This plethora of ideas and feelings results in a play that is longer than it needs to be. Playwright Cerna has put all his emotions into the play and has overwritten it. It could benefit from some cuts and focus. It is, however, a strong dramatic piece that deserves additional productions to tighten the script. When you have a lot to say, sometimes less is more.

The Vortex Theatre's The Art of Raising Anything is a solid production of a new play that still needs some refining. The playwright shows a great deal of promise and provides an entertaining play with a lot to think about.

The Art of Raising Anything runs through February 18, 2024, at The Vortex Theatre, 2900 Carlisle Blvd. NE, Albuquerque NM. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and second and third Saturdays and every Sunday at 2 p.m.. General Admission tickets are $24, SAG/AFTRA and students are $19. For tickets and information, please visit or call 505-247-8600.

Directed by Pete Parkin.

Cast: Zane Barker, Molly Barker, Michael Weppler, Nicholas Barker and Lorri Layle Oliver.
Understudies: Joel Daniel Miller, Tilly Bohnhoff, Lucious Sanchez, and Stephanie Jones.