March 22 2017 02:31 PM

Ixion Theatre explores the absurd in pair of plays

Were I less dedicated to my work, I might grab a thesaurus and find all the synonyms for “wacky,” list all of them, add a few identifications, send it to my editor and say, “This review is finished!”

“Askew Askance A Squirrel,” the latest Ixion Theatre production, surely was wacky. Or zany. Or madcap. Whatever synonym you choose, the pair of one-act plays were full of the absurd and the nonsensical. That doesn’t mean they didn’t make sense they often went so far as to make sense of nonsense.

The package is subtitled “An Evening in Lisa Konoplisky’s World.” From the start of “Nebraska Rapture,” the evening’s first offering, it was clear that the playwright’s world is a very complex, intelligent and, of course, wacky planet. The play introduced five looney characters who could quote everything from Walt Whitman to Blondie to the Book of Revelations.

Their laughable, wild and comedic dialogue often blended with brainy bits and moments of cruelty. “Nebraska Rapture” was a mixture of jokes and serious introspection. Although sometimes painful to watch, the entire journey was an enjoyable trip to crazy town.

Sadonna Croft, as the Bible-thumping mom, was the embodiment of an overzealous evangelical. Her skill gave the character a creepy appeal. Her daughter, Grace — played with a constant snarl by Danica O’Neill — was every God-fearing mother’s nightmare. Nick Lemmer, as Toby, played a peculiar part, portraying a pet (or a person?) that was part playful puppy, part precocious preacher and particularly partial to Pup-Peroni.

Monica Tanner, as Emily, was reminiscent of Beverly Owen’s Marilyn Munster in the TV show about a family of monsters. Emily, like Marilyn, was the most “normal” character on the set. Tanner established her own acting skills not just by delivering lines with a realistic and measured ease; she used facial expressions and hand and body movements to great effect. There were many times when others on the Robin Theatre stage were speaking, but I found myself focused on Tanner instead. She could command that kind of attention just by blinking her eyes and shifting in her seat.

Tanner also made an appearance at the start of Konoplisky’s second play, “SAL- 9000.” She was one of two movers who delivered a sophisticated robotic washing machine to Jill (Katy Kettles), a housewife at odds with her life. Tanner and her fellow mover (Nick Lemmer) mastered the cadence of carnival barkers explaining the virtues of the SAL-9000 to Jill.

Tracy Dolinar masterfully handled the smooth voice of the machine. He had a well suited computer voice, similar to the iconic Hal 9000 from “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Only some microphone distortions and pops tarnished a silvery delivery.

Kettles dominated the stage for the three-scene “SAL-9000,” frequently standing at the front of the stage in the intimate theater. Her reactions to SAL-9000’s banter, which was often filled with hilarious sexual innuendo, felt genuine.

Again, the comedy in the second play was mixed with some harshness and introspection. I found the mix less appealing in “SAL-9000,” and thought it was a little too long. The charm of having a passionate relationship with a washer gradually dissipated like a cloud of bubbles.

"Askew Askance A Squirrel!"
Ixion Theatre
8 p.m. Saturday, March 25; 7 p.m. Sunday, March 26
$15/$10 adv.
The Robin Theatre
1105 S. Washington Ave., Lansing
(517) 775-4246, ixiontheatre.com

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