December 16, 2018

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Savage in Limbo a ShanleyFest must-see

Photo by Leif Norman</p><p>Gislina Patterson (from left) Frances Koncan and Johanna Burdon in Savage in Limbo.</p></p>

Photo by Leif Norman

Gislina Patterson (from left) Frances Koncan and Johanna Burdon in Savage in Limbo.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 7/2/2018 (312 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Savage in Limbo is an early work of John Patrick Shanley’s dating back to 1984. But its setting — a dingy Bronx bar — and its tough, prickly language feel on form for classic Shanley.

The play has a light Twilight Zone overlay in that the five characters rambling around the stage share the same age — 32 — and parochial school background. Also, they are all trapped in their lives, as per the title. One half-expects Rod Serling to pop up any moment to say: “Submitted for your approval...”

A bartender named Murk (played by Frances Koncan, who also directed) is keeping dozing customer April (Ntara Curry) topped up with just enough booze to sustain her cognitive haze. Like a neurotic thunderbolt comes Denise Savage (Gislina Patterson), manically looking for distraction (“I feel like something is chasing me!”) from a lonely life at home with her shut-in mother.

Diversion comes in the form of weeping Linda (Johanna Burdon), distraught over the breakup with her longtime Monday-evening assignation Tony (Ady Kay). When Denise and Linda were in school, they were presumably of different cliques. (“You get knocked up every time you stop walking,” Denise says to Linda.)

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 7/2/2018 (312 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Savage in Limbo is an early work of John Patrick Shanley’s dating back to 1984. But its setting — a dingy Bronx bar — and its tough, prickly language feel on form for classic Shanley.

The play has a light Twilight Zone overlay in that the five characters rambling around the stage share the same age — 32 — and parochial school background. Also, they are all trapped in their lives, as per the title. One half-expects Rod Serling to pop up any moment to say: "Submitted for your approval..."

A bartender named Murk (played by Frances Koncan, who also directed) is keeping dozing customer April (Ntara Curry) topped up with just enough booze to sustain her cognitive haze. Like a neurotic thunderbolt comes Denise Savage (Gislina Patterson), manically looking for distraction ("I feel like something is chasing me!") from a lonely life at home with her shut-in mother.

Diversion comes in the form of weeping Linda (Johanna Burdon), distraught over the breakup with her longtime Monday-evening assignation Tony (Ady Kay). When Denise and Linda were in school, they were presumably of different cliques. ("You get knocked up every time you stop walking," Denise says to Linda.)

But Denise gravitates to Linda’s anguish. Tony has broken it off with her and his reasons are mysterious. "He wants to see ugly women," Linda snuffles. Denise, desperate for some kind of dramatic change-up in her life, suggests they move in together.

But when Tony himself appears in macho tight leather, he explains his "ugly girl" epiphany, which involves a two-hour conversation about the Soviet Union he had with a random pick-up. Denise makes a play for him with the understanding that he, too, is desperate for a breakout from his own repetitive cycle of existence: "The girl, the car, the bed."

This particular production essentially gives the audience ringside seats to the fireworks, employing the coffee bar of the Broadway café Fools + Horses as a kind of immersive set. Certainly, this is conducive to the comfort of the cast and easy accessibility for the audience. But one would have to admit that a pristinely clean and new coffee joint isn’t exactly well cast as a Bronx dive.

The humans bouncing off the walls of the café are better suited to their roles. In what turns out to be the title role, Patterson proves once again to be a vital, at times electric presence. Johanna Burdon confidently navigates a character who turns on a dime from needy to brash to seductive in quick succession. Ntara Curry is funny and poignant as April, the would-be nun-turned-lush.

Two male characters — Tony and Murk — are cast with women. (Murk goes through a gender change. Tony, who once impregnated Linda, does not.) Within the context of the play, the rationale for the change is unclear, save that it allows Ady Kay the opportunity to gently lampoon the priapic posturing of her character. It’s a little more confusing for the character of Murk, a bartender whose habitual watering of dead plants can be interpreted as a kind of mad maternalism.

Nevertheless, this production emerges as what should be considered one of the must-sees of ShanleyFest, smart, funny, and compelling throughout.

randall.king@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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