Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Woody Allen's God at Aux Dog
Director Aaron Worley takes the original 500 BC Athens setting and pairs it, not with Allen's New York Jewish humor, but with 2010 local color. Allen's Doris Levine, philosophy minor from Brooklyn College, becomes Doris Lopez from CNM. When the Writer of the play within the play Hepatitis (skillful and bombastic Eli Browning) hits on Doris, the Actor Diabetes (Scott Bryan as a neurotic charmer) warns him, "You idiot, you're fictional, she's Hispanic (instead of the original 'Jewish')you know what the children will be like."
Doris from Espanola (not Great Neck) is notorious in New Mexico, according to a later character; and actors in 2010 hang out (not in Allen's Sardi's) but in a local pub O'Niell's. Starr Edwell's seductively naïve, bright-eyed Doris steals scenes with the Writer and Actor with perfectly timed facial reactions. The Saturday night audience guffawed at the absurd character names juxtaposed with local references.
The existential dilemma posed in the opening and closing scenes is the question of the ending"just meaningless, ... empty, ... hopeless, ... unsatisfying." It's obvious that the Actor and Writer are discussing not just the play by Hepatitis but human mortality. They question reality. The Actor argues, "May I remind you that we don't exist in real life ... we're characters in a play right now." The Writer looks mournfully at the audience: "What if they're characters in another play? Of what if nothing exists and we're all in somebody's dream? Or ... only that guy in the third row exists?"
The Actor phones Woody Allen, who pronounces his character "badly drawn ... very one-dimensional." A character named Lorenzo Miller (Arthur Alpert in a contemporary suit) claims to have written the audience. Thus, Allen echoes Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author and Stoppard's backstage banter in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Authorship circles outward toward an endlessly deferred ultimate Author or not. Allen's actors take small comfort in the logic that if they don't exist they can't die.
To solve the ending problem, an entrepreneurial inventor named Trichinosis (Steven Suttle in a green party toga) gives a sales pitch for his deus ex machina from which the phobic stagehand Bursitis (fake-bearded Matt Worley) will descend in a "Zeus suit" to save the Actor playing the Slave Phidipides from the King's fatal wrath.
Phidippides delivers the wrong answer ("Yes") to the question "Is there a god?" The King (Joel Miller) fears he'll be punished for his crimes. Before the Actor delivers his fatal message, the King's Guard ( Matthew Van Wettering) delivers his previously ordered roast beef sandwich.
Slapstick argument about which comes firstthe answer or the question ("No, you first./ No, you./ No, you./ No, you.") echoes the opening and closing repartee about endings and beginnings and owes much to Allen's oldest comic mentor Euripides and his classic comic technique of short, snappy, antithetic stichomythia.
To compound the absurdity of God Blanche Dubois (Yolanda Knight) wanders in, escaping from Streetcar Named Desire to seek refuge in "a play where God exists." Wendy and Bob Fate (Linda Sklov and Steven Suttle costumed in matching tropical tourist shirts) toy with the fate of Phidippides.
To illustrate the fickleness of life, the Fates mention a woman stabbed on the Rail Runner (not the IRT or the BMT, or was it the Rapid Ride?). Megan Hauser appears as the Stabbed Woman with an exaggerated fake knife sticking out of her gut and oozing fake blood; she muses on public crime. As Chorus, four young women in bed sheet togas (Veronica Barrett, Nephele Jackson, Ashley McGinley, Rona Wright) question, cajole and judge Hepatitis as Phidipides.
In the end the machine fails and kills God. To cinch the ending, a Delivery Boy (Josh Blankman) delivers a telegram stating "God is dead. Stop. You're on your own." Frank Melcori delivers a penultimate typical Woody Allen nebbish disclaimer that, in spite of the fact that he was given a bit part, he really could have played all the roles.
Marty Epstein's minimal set design works well for the mercurial drama that slips easily back and forth in time and place. Costumes by Julie and Miguel enhance the wit of Allen's writing, Worley's direction, and the infectious ensemble fun that the actors share with the audience.
With this production of God and the previous one of Christopher Durang's Why Torture is Wrong and the People Who Love Them and their coming show, Steve Martin's Picasso at the Lapin Agile, Auxiliary Dog plants a firm paw print this summer as Albuquerque's go-to Off-Off-Broadway theater for avant garde comedy. See my previous review of Aux Dog's production of Mass Appeal for more on what Managing Director Eli Browning is doing to make Aux Dog an arts center.
God by Woody Allen is playing at Auxiliary Dog Theatre, 3011 Monte Vista NE, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through August 22. All seats are $10. Call 254-7716 for ticket information and consult their website at www.auxdog.org.