As White As O is novelist/activist/documentary filmmaker Stacy Sims”™ first play, and – regrettably – it shows. With a running time of around two-and-a-half hours, it proves overlong and repetitive. Nevertheless, at its core, this play is an interesting examination of an unusual sensory affliction.
Sims”™ play poses the question, what if your life was an inadvertent work of art, complicated by an onrushing riot of the senses? As White As O is the story of a lost young fellow named Jack Hawley (played by Vince Tula). We learn that Jack has synesthesia, a condition involving an involuntary cross-wiring of the senses. This means that Jack tastes his feelings, can hear sounds and smell what he touches and even sees numbers and letters in vivid color. Needless to say, he is a troubled soul who dulls his hypersensitivity with drugs and alcohol.
The play is set in New York, and opens on a scene where a blonde-haired, ice princess art curator Clara (played by Lauren Clark, at her bitchy best) is bullying her four overworked assistants to complete an art installation, entitled “30 Years of Outsider Art,” that is scheduled to open the following day.
Employing the standard dramatic technique of flashbacks, and making good use of an altered lighting state coupled with the evocative sound of metallic wind chimes, Sims”™ play frequently shifts from the present day back to Jack”™s childhood in Rabbit Hash, Kentucky. As the story gradually unfolds, we learn that Jack”™s father Sam (sensitively portrayed by Mark St Amant) was a loner, plagued by his son”™s oddity and the loss of his wife shortly after giving birth. Somehow the pair began embellishing their ramshackle bungalow with buttons and pennies and all sorts of found objects in collective patterns. Eventually Clara, an ambitious young woman from the city, stumbles upon the odd home and, after anointing it an important work of “outsider art,” devises a scheme to profit from it and further her career. Clara manages to purchase and then move Jack and his father”™s house to an art museum in New York. There Jack is forced to revisit his painful past.
Arriving in New York for the art opening, Jack becomes overwhelmed by memories of his father”™s life and death, learns more about his absent mother and reunites with a girl from back home that he never stopped loving.
Considering how central the decorated home is to this play, Desma Murphy”™s astoundingly detailed set design is a masterpiece of encrusted intricacy. Ostensibly an art gallery exhibition space, the stage has three separate performance areas and is dominated by the small house. The central visual motif of the letter ‘O’ is nicely rendered in a number of incarnations. On the transplanted house every available surface area is covered with clusters of items such as bike bells, kewpie dolls”™ plastic heads, bottle caps, license plates, multi-colored wooden blocks, golf balls and crushed soda cans – all forming a pleasing mosaic effect.
In one corner of the stage is a small, raised set of institutional white surfaces. On it sits a female patient, clearly tormented by demons as she bounces a baby doll on her knee. We keep returning to a repetitive scene wherein the incarcerated lunatic becomes distressed and starts shrieking and caterwauling in a disturbing fashion. Once was definitely enough to get that point across. Four or five versions of the same escalating histrionics seem designed to exhaust the patience of the audience. She”™s crazy – we get it. Still, kudos to Elizabeth Sampson for her raw performance as demented Grace, also Bryna Weiss was great as the compassionate nurse.
Another stand out performance is Mark St Amant as Jack”™s father, a man barely capable of coping with the dysfunction that he finds himself immersed in and losing his grip upon.
As White As O is certainly an intriguing, if rambling, play. While some judicious editing would immensely improve the experience, anyone interested in learning more about outsider art will enjoy this tale.
Special Events for As White As O:
Saturday, October 24th is the Desma Murphy Benefit Performance, to celebrate the award-winning set designer. Murphy will be honored with the ARTI; the Artisan award for merit.
Hors d”™oeuvres will be served between 7-8pm, and dessert and coffee will be served following the performance.
Tickets are $125.00. For more information and bookings, call (818) 752 7568
Also, Pay-What-You-Can Nights are:
Friday, Oct 23rd @ 8PM
Sunday, Nov 1st @ 2PM
The Road Theatre Company
5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood CA 91601
Runs: until Saturday, December 12th, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.
Sundays at 2 p.m.
Box Office: (866) 811-4111
Check their website for **Pay-What-You-Can Nights**