HUNGRY FOR FEED
FEED AT NOHO ARTS CENTER
The future is scary in Jim Lunsford’s Feed, as a woman stands trial for the crime of giving birth without governmental approval. Now premiering at NoHo Arts, where it was developed in workshop, the Feed in question is not some genetically altered Orwellian food source developed by unscrupulous descendants of Col. Sanders, but instead an electronic video feed being broadcast Big Brother-style to the general population.
It’s a long way from Roe v. Wade, set in an age where the remaining “scavengers after an era of uncontrollable consumption” are sterilized, and procreation regulated by the State. Sid (Andrea Lockhart), in a battle to be returned to the toddler she conceived after a butchered back alley surgery, is placed in the hands of a world-weary defense lawyer named Cowboy (Robert W. Arbogast) who does all he can do to control her violent outbursts in court, let alone help her understand the severity of her case.
Smug prosecutor Keller (Paul Denniston) is assigned to illuminate the name of the man who performed Sid’s reverse sterilization and access to the underground network that helped her in her quest to pop out her own little Sid Junior. Coupled with a strangely personal and potentially erotically charged relationship between Cowboy and Keller—one gets the idea that if the defense attorney would succumb to a little casting couching, Keller might lighten up—what Lunsford has created is eerily fascinating and all too possible, unless we all step up and wrestle control from the skewed “leadership” running our country’s current Blue Stately born-again dictatorship.
Under the imaginative direction of James J. Mellon, Feed is a taut, intellectual, crisply focused thriller guaranteed to induce missed sleep for any thinking person. NoHo Arts has something potentially brilliant; although, after 18 months of workshopping, personally, I would gently suggest Feed could be a true contemporary classic if the playwright and this fiercely dedicated band of artists would be willing to commit to about 18 months more. Lunsford’s dialogue is literate and often even poetic, but he tends to overwrite, which occasionally leaves this committed band of actors with little place to go beyond making his language work realistically.
It’s an occupational hazard for playwrights (myself included), when creating something potentially meaningful, to want to say everything in their lives they ever wanted to say; sometimes, a first production of a new work can help weed out the verbal excess in the repeated performance of the material. Many lines repeatedly linking descriptive adjectives (“a select and delicate crop”, “unique and pure,” “rusty and jagged,” “quietly and woefully”) could be infinitely more effective if simplified. Perhaps this is so clear to me personally because, as they say, we often dislike in other’s work what we don’t like about our own.
Craig Siebels’ striking two-tiered courtroom set is a knockout, as are video images revealing the highlights and atrocities of the 20th century projected above the proscenium throughout the performance, and the cast is uniformly excellent. The two-character scenes “in chambers” between Arbogast and Denniston are particularly striking, and Janet Fontaine is especially successful in finding a few vulnerable layers of humanity lurking somewhere below the crusty exterior of the tribunal’s by-the-book chief justice.
Lockhart has Sid’s explosive anger down perfectly, although her last speech, offering a statement to the court explaining her actions is, like this play, only almost there. Lockhart obviously understands her character’s plight and expresses it beautifully, but she tends to rely on tears and a quavering voice to express her position, when holding back from breaking up could be a killer. Tears onstage can be highly effective, but more often, fighting back the overt expression of such emotion can be even more mesmerizing.
Still, Feed is a heart-wrenching, incredibly disturbing drama. Shelley wrote that artists and poets were the “unacknowledged legislators of the world.” If there’s a future for any of us, it’s a given that the arts are key. Let’s hope that this play is included among the elements that made our species’ survival possible.
The NoHo Arts Center is located at 11136 Magnolia Bl., North Hollywood; for tickets, call (818) 508-7101.