Silver Bullet Trailer
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
March 31, 2008
Julie Shavers's new play Silver Bullet Trailer begins with a wonderful, startling image: the unborn baby of a very pregnant woman starts talking to her. This lets us know right away that anything can happen in the world of this play, and the seemingly boundless imaginations of Shavers and her director Dan O'Brien deliver on that promise. This odyssey of a woman named Sari and her child-to-be takes audiences on a whirlwind journey through American iconography that encompasses everything from a cowboy in a last chance desert saloon to a trio of Mel Brooks/Blazing Saddles Indians on a remote street corner. The performance itself, likewise, finds space for wild absurdism, touching poetic naturalism, musical numbers (accompanied by a live four-man band), and even some filmed interludes of varying styles.
So Silver Bullet Trailer is kind of a hodgepodge of theatrical genres and concepts; it does feel somewhat scattershot, but its integrity and its invention give it authentic value and sense of purpose. It's never anything but entertaining and compelling, and the a-ha! moments that dot it catch us unawares and are sometimes quite breathtaking. (Indeed, one of the challenges I am facing writing this review is that I don't want to give any of them away, which leaves me with very little in the way of specifics to talk about here.)
Shavers herself plays Sari, and although the trappings of the character are Middle American Trailerpark, she brings an everywoman naturalness to the role that helps make her story transcendent. She's supported by a cast of 13 other actors, most of whom get some moments to shine on stage; particularly noteworthy are Ryan Woodle as a doctor who exemplifies the most nightmarish aspects of the present-day American health care system (don't worry though: he's very funny), Michael Hannon as an out-of-work clown, Benjamin Ellis Fine as a menacing surreal presence known simply as "Man" in the cast list, and Brent Popolizio as the unborn but somehow mobile baby.
Kevin Bartlett's spare set design works beautifully with Laura Mroczkowki's elemental lighting to effectively conjure location and mood with deft economy. Alisha Silver's costumes are numerous and range from sexy creations for a chorus of bargirls to more fanciful ones for the Indians and a giant spider who apparently is haunting Sari's dreams. Phil Carluzzo's music, played with terrific aplomb by Robert Block (bass), Nick Colt (toy piano/accordion), Jared Engel (banjo), and Devin Ilaw (piano; also the conductor), augments the piece beautifully. I particularly love that there's a toy piano used here; it feels charming and inevitable every time.
The play works best when it tracks the surreal encounters that Sari and her baby have with the disparate, off-kilter strangers who populate their dreamlike worlds. Shavers also includes some topical references that, though pointed, sometimes pull us out of the universe of the play. But when she gets on a satirical roll—as she does in the funny/scary sequences where the uninsured Sari is trying to get some medical care—she's very successful indeed.
I liked Silver Bullet Trailer a lot: I liked all the unexpected places and people it showed me, and I especially liked how frequently and fully the play kept on surprising me. Shavers and O'Brien create an aesthetic that's exciting and intriguing, one that I definitely want to keep seeing more of.