A Trip Inside the Chocolate Factory's Cooler
Walk into Gary Winters Coolernow playing at the Chocolate Factory in a production directed by Dylan McCulloughand youre hit with an icy blast of Bush-era despair, cryogenically preserved. From a more lucid play, the reminder could be salutarywere only a year into Obamatimes, and many of the old griefs linger. But Winter ultimately shuts spectators out, leaving us peering through thickets of idiosyncratic symbols at yet another dystopia.
The enormous titular refrigerator once transported dead soldiers home from a vicious war in an unspecified desert country. Now, its the hermetic retreat of a motley crew hiding from a hostile world. Ivan (Crystal Finn)whose name belies her genderwiles away the hours composing Slavic-sounding ditties on bleak existential themes. Pearl (Jocelyn Kuritsky) dresses up as the young Cher; Andrea (Havilah Brewster) rhapsodizes her absent father. Only Jack (Michael Tisdale)a war hero and former torture victim turned zookeepermanages to regularly leave the bunker.
Bundled up in thrift-store duds, the outcasts spout eddying streams of consciousness: waxing philosophical, reading aloud from the dictionary, indulging in whimsical wordplay and literary allusion (a Chekhov reference prompts the refrain to Moscow!).
Washed by stuttering fluorescent tubes, the basement auditoriums concrete walls eloquently evoke the plays chilly setting. The committed cast struggles to endow Winters fussy verbiage with emotional force, and McCullough arranges some striking sequencesa rhino-themed dancebreak delightsbut theyre hamstrung by the texts abstruseness.
The tough thing about allegory is that we first need a baseline of legibility before attaching larger meanings to staged events. But like the reclusive characters that populate it, Winters play is pathologically private, filled with icons impenetrable to all but himself. Beyond a general distaste for the lamentable aspects of the last decade, we cant fully share his rage because we cant really decipher it. Which leaves the playlike that frost-encrusted something at the back of the freezerpast its date.
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