Beam me up, Wayne David Parker
by Sally Mitani
From the March, 2017 issue
Smart Love, a new play by Brian Letscher at the Purple Rose, begins and ends with a bang. A thunderclap shakes the stage, and a middle-aged woman in her nightgown scurries into the kitchen for a three a.m. snack, her husband a few steps behind her wearing a Dad robe and woolly socks. The opening scenes of a play are where the audience decides whether the signals telegraphed by the actors, director, playwright, and all the attendant stagecraft personnel are worth deciphering. In this production, every detail is there for a reason.
We deduce that this marriage is loose and comfortable; the couple makes silly wordplay, and they're casually affectionate. But as they snuggle and nosh on the couch, they begin to seem too hotly amorous for a long-married couple. It's puzzling, but suddenly the focus shifts to a horrendous banging on the door and another thunderclap.
The woman finds a gun and loads it with clumsy hands. She levels it at the door, screaming that she's going to shoot. Through the commotion, she begins to recognize the voice at the door and, stricken, hisses to the man with whom she had recently been sharing a snack that she didn't expect "him" to be home yet.
This makes sense of the previous scene, only to supplant it with another mystery. The man who bursts through the front door--as the portly woolly-sock man hightails it out the back--can't possibly be her husband. He's far too young. And so go the brisk-paced opening scenes of Smart Love, each new development swiftly putting the proper frame around the previous picture, but adding new, confusing details. We haven't even gotten close yet to what the play is really about.
The twenty-five-year-old is her son, back for the first time since the death of his father eight months before. With a sigh, Mom asks if he's hungry, and he requests corned beef hash. Abashed, she says there's none in the house, confessing
she never liked it--she kept it around for her son and husband. This poignant way of saying "I've moved on" is worth ten pages of psychobabble. And when he replies "I still love you," he's quite serious in his magnanimity, gauging in almost Shakespearean shorthand the emotional depth of twenty-five-year-old men.
I've spoiled the first ten minutes, so I'd better keep the rest vague. This is a crazy fantastical play that explores what a house of mirrors the personality is. What is a real person, anyway? Wayne David Parker (perhaps best known as the manic "Jimmer" in Escanaba in Da Moonlight) is there to answer that. He steals a show that is plenty successful even before he hits the stage in top hat, tails, and tap shoes. His precise but robotic grace and deadpan angelic mien leverage Smart Love to a universe beyond the usual sci-fi realm. It's still early in the year, but I'm betting this is one of the most hilarious plays of 2017.
The play runs through March 4.
[Originally published in March, 2017.]
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