Trouble in Shameland
nytheatre.com review by Akia Squitieri
August 13, 2006
Trouble in Shameland introduces us to a violently sad mother, Virginia Carson, and her two sons, Michael and Aaron. Soon tragedy strikes (conveyed skillfully using multimedia and video). We then flash-forward and meet the grown-up Michael Carson, who has become a recluse and lives vicariously through his graphic novel, "Shameland."
In Shameland, we meet Michael's alter ego, who has several short adventures with Aureae, a rebellious young woman who is fighting a losing battle of trying to save the light within Shameland. The story bounces back and forth between adult Michael's dreary and frustrating reality and Shameland, where young Michael meets Kueen, the Queen of Shameland; her two Henchmen; and many other inhabitants along the way, all the while searching for his platypus, Pete.
Sound complicated? Indeed it is. The plot of this story is overly complicated and intellectualized, the production veers off on so many different courses it is sometimes hard to follow. Often there are not smooth transitions from reality into Shameland. And sadly, the character of Michael is written as a selfish, self-defeating person, so it is hard to relate to or care about him.
Brad Stanley, as the adult Michael Carson, is a steady player and serves the role well, though he had vocal projection issues and was often hard to hear at the performance reviewed. As Michael's mother Virginia, Florence Lacey excels. She is stellar in each scene she graces. Mary Mossberg, plays Kate Sol, Michael's long tormented ex-wife. She has a lovely voice and brings some fine moments to stage. I always delight in seeing young actors on stage, and Garrett Eucker (Young Michael) and Eric Zutty (Aaron) do not disappoint. Both show great potential and in a few years should be something to look out for.
The true pleasure of this show are the inhabitants of Shameland (Chorus: Ryan Andes, Jana Ballard, Mathew Hardy, Liz O'Donnell, and Robyne Parrish). Their gusto and dedication to each part that they play, along with the group musical numbers and solos that occur within "Shameland," are delightful and fun. Carole J Bufford is enchanting and engaging as Kueen, a real standout in this production. As her Henchmen, Katie Hale and Christopher Michael McLamb offer constant amusement and energy. William Day as Pete the Platypus and Frederic Heringes as Marty are also both strong in their roles, and rounding out the cast is Sarah Kinlaw as the sweet Aureae.
Musical direction by Kenneth W. Gartman is spot-on. Some of the outstanding musical numbers are "Kueen's Realm" and "Trouble in Shameland," both sung with gusto by Bufford and the ensemble. "Identity Crisis" is another highlight, led by Eucker, and all of Lacey's numbers are lovely.
Writer/composer/director Bryan Putnam is very ambitious in this work, and tries many interesting ideas. Unfortunately he tries to tackle too many messages and subplots in one story. He has accomplished leading a stellar cast in a show with strong production values, but the story needs some streamlining in order for the audience to keep up with it and care about these characters.
Technically the show is superb: from the costumes (Renee Mariotti) to the lighting (Herrick Goldman) to the multimedia effects (Peter Van Valkenburg), each area of production is well-executed. Special note must be given to the exceptional costume design for the character of Kueen, by Bernard Grenier.