Prophecies foretell great humor in Splinter Group's "Trailer Park"
Sometimes, no matter where you turn, someone else is there, keeping you warm or smothering you, watching you grow or keeping you a baby, protecting you or letting you fly free.
Whatever the reason, most everybody finds out at some point in their lives that being alone is a rare moment. Having someone else in your life, for good or ill, is the law of the land.
That mixture of pain and pleasure is at the heart of Jim Farrell's "Trailer Park Prophecies," currently running at the Marian Center complex.
The central figure in the play, which Farrell also directed, is Charlie Wendel (played by Joe Picchetti), a flat-out psychic. Once a day, he can put himself into a trance, with the help of his mother (played by Linda Loving) who gently talks him into the trance by recounting their trips to Tastee Freeze. While in that trance, he can foretell the future, conjure the past, locate lost items or people and generally make people gasp at his amazing gift.
His mother, touched deeply by religion and find-a-word puzzles, spends her life scheduling callers to come and visit while Charlie does the Lord's work. She manages to keep her son in a kind of childhood isolation, treating him like a baby even though he's 24 years old.
They are a twosome.
Enter Chelsea Cisco, a slightly daft and naive roller-skating server at a Sonic Drive-In. For two years, Chelsea – played winningly by Emily Vitrano – has been coming weekly to have a session with Charlie, always asking about her romantic future. It turns out she has been trying to get him to notice her in a non-psychic way.
Charlie has fallen for Chelsea, and before too long she confesses her love for him, much to the horror of Charlie's mom. They spend the night together on and around the couch, and by morning they are engaged to be married.
They are a twosome.
And then there is Det. Ray Parker, played subtly by Bryce Lord. Parker needs Charlie's talents to solve a crime, and for a bit, they are a twosome. But after the crime is solved and everyone goes their way, Parker comes back to profess his love for Charlie's mom.
And they become a twosome.
What it all goes to show is that, as Dean Martin famously sang, "everybody loves somebody, sometime."
One of the most difficult things in the world of theater is to direct a play you have written. Every word is precious, and you are rightly protective of the script. A director brings his or her own view to the script, and the two are often in some level of conflict.
But Farrell pulls the task off, thanks to a script that wanders between schmaltz, biting humor and breathless attempts at tenderness. If it all seems a bit unsurprising, it's okay because of the actors. You can easily forgive some of the predictability because of the talent on the stage.
Picchetti moves his character from his mother's pawn to Chelsea's lover to a candidate for both husband and son of the year. He's got a facile face and mugs at the all the right times. His trance work is especially funny with his directions for healing laugh-a-minute.
Linda Loving is every son's nightmare as a mother. Controlling and bitterly protective, she maintains a consistent persona until the very end of the play. She can dominate a scene when need be but is equally effective as a secondary player.
Vitrano has the darling, daffy and direct Chelsea Cisco down pat. She is lovely and has a gift for comedic timing that is special. Her glance aside, her look away and her limber body curled on the couch make her a mixture of frivolous temptation and earnest desire. She very nearly steals this show out from under the rest of the cast.
But that theft is prevented by the marvelous Lord who has done just about everything in Milwaukee theater. He takes a character who could easily have served just as a straight man to the other three and gives him a befuddled dedication to crime solving while giving us an earnest wonder at the miracle of Charlie. While the other three characters are all over the top, Lord proves, as it has been proven so many times before, that less is more. While the others are frantic and loud, he is calm and serene.
Every time I see Lord on stage, I am reminded of how lucky we are to have him in our city.
This play is not perfect, by any means. I would have liked to see all the characters have some more dimension to them. A little growth or expansion would be nice. We are missing some warmth from all of them, something that would make us like them more and care more about what happens to them.
But it's a funny play and an interesting story with a great cast.
"Trailer Park Prophecies" runs through Jan. 26. Information is available at splinter-group.org.
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