Blank Theatre Company at the 2nd Stage
In the creaky new Missouri Waltz, written and starring Karen Black, a pregnant and disillusioned commune-dwelling flowerchild named Zoe returns to rural Missouri in 1973, a place still haunted for her by the car crash that took the lives of her widower father and two caregiving aunts.
Fortunately for Zoe—but not for the audience, however—the haunting of her old familial home is not only metaphorical. Her aunts Chrissie and Bea are still there hanging out wandering around the ol’ homestead, incessantly arguing about their former lives and occasionally flailing their arms as they zap everyone else onstage into a convenient catatonia—accompanied by a sound something like one of those metal sheets manipulated to evoke thunder—while they decide how to best next interfere with the lives of those they left behind.
Missouri Waltz is nothing if not bizarre, unless it be wildly overwritten and incredibly predictable. Perhaps the only innovation here is the conceit of it being a play with music, although the lovely songs by Harriet Schock included almost at random only tend to exacerbate the folly of the production as a whole.
The wonderful Dana Peterson is a major asset to this frivolity as Bea despite all the melodramatic verbal pitfalls into which she must avoid stepping, including having to convey with some semblance of honesty such lines as, “How many times do I have to tell you, Chrissie, you’re dead.”
Whitney Laux also does her best breathing real life into the terminally hippie-dippy Zoe, especially brave when she must deliver a sequence of lines explaining into a tape recorder to her unborn child how she turns into a “different person entirely” when her Curse comes a’callin’, a speech which includes describing her reproductive system’s monthly journey from “eggs to sores to blood clots to temporary glands.”
Both Eric Pierpont as Bea’s cartoonish and conniving ex, who does everything but twirl a handlebar moustache and tie Zoe onto a railroad track to exhibit his villainy, and Weston Blakesley as her dewy-eyed lost love, try valiantly here, but considering the silliness of the script and the glaringly arbitrary staging by director Angela Garcia Combs, it’s sadly not worth the effort.
Oddly, it’s Black herself in the role of Chrissie who’s the most off the mark in performance as well even though telling her own tale, bringing to the table nary a moment of sincerity beyond quivering eyebrows, tiny shuffling baby steps, and vocals that sound like foghorns on speed. And whenever anyone else has focus in her own script, you can guarantee Black will be lurking in the background offering illogical reactions to her own dialogue, patting down the body suit which protrudes at the neck and sleeves from her silk housedress, twirling her massive mane of hair to sit just right on her shoulders as though preparing for her next “take,” and unconsciously (one would hope) cupping and adjusting her right breast.
Even the most venerated theatre company can falter on occasion just by the nature of the illusive beast that creating art from scratch can be, but in this case, the acclaimed and heavily awarded Blank Theatre Company does more than falter—it takes a huge misstep right off the front of its own stage, compounded by the almost complete lack of the company’s usually exemplary production values (even the prop envelopes which seem to be the only things in any drawer are all identical and look directly lifted from CVS, not vintage to the storyline).
The Blank, according to its hardworking artistic director Daniel Henning, has set a worthy goal to provide a “safe environment for artists to stretch their talents in new directions,” but this world premiere doesn’t go off exploring any real new directions, it only rehashes—and poorly—existing ones, eventually giving this clumsy play the feel of a vanity production gone massively astray.
Simply, if Black were not an Academy Award-nominated actor, something the publicity and posters for this production proclaim shamelessly, it’s hard to imagine her Missouri Waltz ever making it to fruition. Even if Black were the genetic lovechild of Horton Foote and Neil Simon and wrote this for The Twilight Zone, the story editors would still have shelved it on first consideration.
Missouri Waltz plays through July 1 at the 2nd Stage, 6500 Santa Monica Bl. in Hollywood; for tickets, call 323.661.9827.