The Ice Cream Social Disease
While AIDS continues to ravage populations worldwide, and other pandemics, including flesh-eating bacteria and mad-cow disease, malinger at the edges, one would think there is plenty of available drama to continue to create compelling theatre on the subject of plagues.
Yet, with Pangaea Theatre Company's current production of The Ice Cream Social Disease, we are confronted with the realization that despite the frightening, invisible nature of these biological killers and the desperation of those touched by such horrors, it's always possible to produce cliché-ridden dialogue that's devoid of catharsis.
In an abandoned drive-in movie theatre somewhere in the American desert in the not-too-distant future, where the water no longer flows but electricity inexplicably remains, five survivors of a unnamed virulent disease find themselves thrown together, with nothing but a dwindling supply of canned goods and a couple buckets of water standing between themselves and starvation.
|Phil Newsom as Mark|
and Linda Chavez as Lily
Photo credit: Pangaea Theatre Company
Within these strictures, the gamut of human emotions and their egotistic shadows run rampant. Unfortunately, the expressions of these instinctive, fear-based behaviors rarely exceed two-dimensional realization.
Niles, whose arrival with Holly at the remote outpost sets up the premise, appears at first to be a well-prepared and calculating survivalist, with Brian Lewis' driving performance energizing the action. But in short order, Niles' passive, self-obsessed observations override this dynamic, turning him into an exasperating, textbook stand-in for "male ego."
Holly, too, is caught between insipid dialogue, stunted interactions that fail to advance the plot, and confused motivations, leading Sara Rae Downey to an uneven—sometimes warm, upright, and expressive, sometimes restricted, stooped, and introverted—performance.
Mark and Jake, the initial inhabitants of the drive-in, are an odd couple: Mark is level-headed and thoughtful, yet restricted from being much of a help by an injured foot; Jake is silent, we are told, because he no longer sees any value in speaking.
|Mike Holzer as Jake|
Photo credit: Pangaea
These idiosyncrasies, like the still-present electrical power, feel misguided—Mark constantly paces the floor, rather than resting his foot; Jake arbitrarily chooses one crisis moment to speak rather than a host of others that have passed—leaving Phil Newsom and Mike Holzer with little room to create purposeful portraits.
Finally, Lily shows up half-crazed, out of the blue, with vague recollections of running water somewhere to the south. Here, Laura Chavez manages a strong performance despite the sketchy dialogue provided her and events (including a robust river that conveniently turns stagnant in a matter of days and a superfluous, style-busting ghostly visit) that fail the credibility test.
While Matthew Schultz' script possesses the potential for drama, it would take a fearless revisitation—discovering the missed opportunities for aggression and desire, energizing the numerous passages devoted to telling instead of showing, and reconceiving the odd directorial choices that further muddy the confused characters—to save it.
Pangaea Theatre Company's production of The Ice Cream Social Disease runs through January 22nd at 2180 Stout Street, Denver (formerly The LIDA Project Experimental Theatre). 303-282-0466.