Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
Charlie Cox Runs with Scissors
Set in the desert somewhere between Phoenix and nowhere fast, Charlie Cox Runs with Scissors tells the story of Charlie Cox (Todd Bruno), a middle-aged editor who was recently diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. A sarcastic and obnoxious guy named Wally (also McKeever), who may be a friend or a foe, is dumping on Charlie from the very beginning about how he's telling his story. When we first meet Charlie, he seems to be recounting his story through his memoir. Through ridicule, shame, and sheer doggedness, Wally gets him to rethink this decision and rewind.
Charlie takes us back to the moment he heard the unthinkable words. Having an incurable disease is hard to fathom because he considers himself to be a good man that has made healthy ahem, boringdecisions. The doctor gives him 18 months to live, the typical life span for people in similar situations. Charlie gets in his car and starts driving, and he soon picks up Wally, the cantankerous, Punisher-shirt wearing guy who winds up being his personal grim-reaper. Though he's not clad in a dark hooded robe or wielding a scythe, Wally can't wait for Charlie to croak.
Trying his best to grapple with a terrible diagnosis and now death in the flesh, Charlie rides until his car breaks down and he has to stop at a rundown motel. Ardean Landhuis' set design matches what Charlie must feel inside: drab and blah in certain areas and garish and flashy in others. Charlie is simultaneously alarmed and retreating from his circumstances. While he's trying to deal with his mortality and now his car, both putt-putting to nowhere, he meets Nell Todd (Jeanine Gangloff Levy), the widowed caretaker of the motel. Scoffing at and downplaying anything that resembles hope, Wally objects right away to a connection that seems to be taking place between Nell and Charlie, but he's not the only one.
Travis Dunn (Alex Alvarez), a sweet but overprotective brute, comes in, immediately voicing his concerns about Charlie's presence. He is carrying an unrequited torch for Nell. Yet, despite Wally and Travis, Charlie is the biggest impediment in his own way. He simply won't allow himself to forage into the unknown of being in love until Kiki (Gretchen Porro), love personified as a blind, '60s hippie, shows up to give him a boost. Kiki is a firecracker determined to keep the sparks flying between Nell and Charlie. But who will keep control of Charlie's short-lived after, death or love? Wally and Kiki engage in a bitter, but funny, tug of war.
Charlie Cox Runs with Scissors is a psychological look at processing bad news that triumphs in some areas but fails in others. It features solid supporting actors like McKeever and Porro who, under Stuart Meltzer's direction, rightly upstage Bruno. Embodying two forces of nature, they provide great comic relief and are the cogs in the wheels of Charlie's life. Unfortunately, despite their frequent quips and a short running time of 90 minutes without intermission, the show drags in some pockets and becomes tedious. This is due to the repetitive banter between Wally and Charlie. Wally spends far more time accompanying Charlie than Kiki does, and while this makes sense for their respective metaphors in Charlie's life, it causes the show to dip in momentum.
Other successes are the smooth scene changes and the staging of the ALS tremors. Bruno and Wally's performances accompanied by David Hart's sound design produce some poignant and stark jolts back to Charlie's reality. Levy's quirky and unabashed Nell is also a breath of fresh air.
Charlie Cox Runs with Scissors offers an irreverent but profound look at what happens when we respond to bad, life-changing news. It's seldom an unwavering response. As the play suggests, there are stages and feelings to filter through. Do we lie down and take it or do we fight? The power in this play and in this production is in the fight.
West Boca Theatre Company's Charlie Cox Runs with Scissors runs through December 22, 2019, at the Levis JCC Sandler Center, 21050 95th Avenue South, Boca Raton FL. Performances are Thursdays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Thursdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are for $30-40. For tickets and information, visit levisjcc.org/culture/theater/ or call 561-558-2520.