Daddyo Dies Well: Theater Review

Short, pungent and mystical, Murray Mednick's cycle "The Gary Plays" continues to deepen with each installment, though this current entry stands piercingly on its own as a slice-of-death meditation.

The fifth play of a projected cycle of eight in Murray Mednick's "The Gary Plays" stars Hugh Dane.

The fifth of a projected cycle of eight The Gary Plays, Murray Mednick’s latest entry concentrates on the death of his stepfather Daddyo (Hugh Dane), who has been struck by a hit-and-run white pickup truck while crossing Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica.

Daddyo, who married Gary’s mother, the late Mama Bean (Strawn Bovee), commendably prepares himself by helping Gary (Casey Sullivan), who is still grieving over the shooting death of his son, get his head straight. That he endeavors to do this by getting Gary hallucinogenically high unmistakeably marks this story as distinctively Mednick, as does the heightened poetic language, the complex underlying vocal rhythms, and the bemused admiration of the ceremonies of indigenous cultures.

In all the plays, Gary, an unemployed actor, struggles with inner voices that are objectified by characters onstage. Here, the tripping and vomiting Gary calls his ex-wife Gloria (Elizabeth Greer), who is on a spiritual quest in in the Andes searching for the very “Dr. Antonio” (Peggy A. Blow) who is present in the space as Daddyo’s angel of death, invoked by an Ayahuasca ritual enacted with the help of the nervous Dr. Jones (Jack Kehler). The mother of Gary’s surviving children, Marcia (Melissa Paladino), who keeps him from seeing them, also explains her rage and refusal.

A saga of suffering souls seeking something short of salvation, The Gary Plays manage to be both keenly of our time and out of this world. Daddyo Dies Well is dominated by the indispensable presence of Dane, a local stage luminary of extraordinary range, capable of both humanizing the mythic figure and transcending the occasional descent in mumbo-jumbo. As the late Christopher Allport remains indelibly in one’s memory as Gary, Sullivan’s much younger incarnation requires some adjustment, yet he is exceptionally persuasive in his callow anguish. Greer and Paladino are tart and vivid, and Kehler expressively specific in an obscure part. Bovee marks a welcome return to the local stage with a forceful and lyrical embodiment of a ghost, mostly achieved with the eyes and a mandarin delivery that bespeaks of her character’s love.

Mednick’s fecundity over the last fifteen years has produced an astonishingly strong body of work (Joe and Betty, Fedunn, Mrs. Feuerstein) capable of standing up to that of any other American playwright of his generation. The Gary Plays tend more to the elliptical, sketching a portrait in short bursts over a long haul. As his own director, he is much like a drummer-led band, attentive to his own impeccable beat.

Venue: The Electric Lodge, Venice (Through May 22)
Cast: Hugh Dane, Casey Sullivan, Elizabeth Greer, Melissa Paladino, Strawn Bovee, Peggy A. Blow, Jack Kehler
Director: Murray Mednick
Sets: Matt Aston
Lighting: Dan Reed
Costumes: Gwendolyn Stukey
Music and sound design: John Zalewski
Presented by Padua Playwrights Productions, Guy Zimmerman artistic director. Produced by Roger Q. Mason. Executive produced by Racquel Lehrman of Theatre Planners.