Some people expect the apocalypse to come with explosions, brimstone and fire. For the nervous survivors in "Crash Test Dummies," the end time comes not with bangs but with whimpers.
Christina Ham's new drama, which premiered over the weekend at Red Eye Theater in Minneapolis, takes place in the wake of the foreclosure crisis that has hollowed out an unnamed neighborhood in an American city. Order has broken down, as the last remaining family to inhabit its own home has to contend with lawless marauders and menacing helicopters.
The tension builds as patriarch Emmett (Ed Jones) tries to evict his son, Cooper (Ryan Lindberg) from the home that has been in the family for generations. The play also has Cooper's teenage daughter Fleur, (Celeste Busa), his wife (Amanda Whisner) and Emmett's sister, Mallory (Miriam Must).
The stakes are pretty high in theory for "Crash," whose title refers to Cooper's lost job; he formerly worked in the auto industry. Yet you don't always feel the urgency and desperation in Steve Busa's production, which has some moving moments.When Fleur first enters the scene, she's injured. Her father consoles her, in a touching and palpable scene.
Some of the show's shortcoming can be laid to a misuse of the scenic design. The action takes place in Liz Josheff's impressively expansive set. She has created a house porch and a clean yard on the left (stage right) with a couple of bunches of bramble and a tarp beside it. In the intimate Red Eye space, the set seems too large, which presents both opportunity and challenge for the director. He has placed his actors so that they often have much distance between them, a spatial separation for the characters that dissipates the tension.
The blocking also invites inertia, as Busa sometimes plants his performers in a spot (say, sitting on the porch or just standing around) and have them declaim their lines. The lines themselves sound formal, instead of things that bubble up from the soul.
Despite all of that, "Crash" is worth a look. Ham's writing is still being formed, but you can see the outlines of her talent. The same may be said for the cast, even as they seek ways to animate their characters. Jones gives an unbending, sensible presence to Emmett, a matter-of-fact character that will tell you that he is going to shoot you, and then follow through. Lindberg fights his way through Cooper's emotional turns and outbursts, giving us more than surface emotions. Busa's Fleur is tender and vulnerable while Whisner and Must make the most of characters that feel like mouthpieces rather than real people.