Think Kill Bill meets Dogma and you might just be in the ballpark for Single Carrot Theatre’s first production of their seventh season. Presenting, in all its blasphemous hilarity, the regional premier of A Beginner’s Guide to Decide, SCT is once again hitting the nail on the head with their overall mission as a company – providing quality theatre that really makes you think, and this production, directed by Elliott Rauh, just happens to do so while making your gut burst with laughter. Not for the extremely pious, or maybe exactly what the good father ordered, this irreverent and hilarious approach to religion as fantasy is roaring with parody, familiar faces, a well crafted plotline and some nonsense for good measure. Follow along with Lucy as she sets out on her ultimate mission: Kill God. Now. With a nerdy and very reluctant sister in tow, they’ll encounter a gambit of historical and religious icons along the way in this ten-step adventure to do the ultimate deed. But will Lucy succeed? Only one way to find out.
Step One: Know Thy Enemy
The enemy in this case becomes the in which to enhance all of the intricate elements of this story. This show literally has everything to include so stunning medium visual projections should be no exception. Electrics Designer Adrienne Gieszl, working with Projection Engineer Steven Krigel, create some of the most sensationalized blood spatter for the gory moments that happen on the journey. And it cannot go without mentioning that at the top of Act II the audience is treated to a very special video telling the tale of The Blue Ninja. Conceptual design and animation for this video was provided by Natasha Nayo, Esie Cheng, and Alexa Macias; the trio providing a great deal of awkward yet appropriate humor for this segment of the show.
Step Two: Find Thy Path
Director Elliott Rauh makes the path clear; determined acting with over the top characters that exist inside a clearly defined world. Rauh augments scenes of hilarity with melodrama; the one coming to mind is the confrontation between Lucy (Lauren Saunders) and Joan of Arc (Chris Dews). Played at the epitome of catty girl-fight, this throw down between religion’s historical martyr and the girl on a mission is uproarious. Compare this scene to a much more somber and intense scene like the one between Saunders and Dews, with Dews playing God at the end of the performance, and you’ll see just how well Rauh has defined the path of this production; a perfect balance of madcap humorous acting with serious emotional gravity, each swinging a pendulum’s circuit over the actors as the show winds to its shocking conclusion.
Step Three: Research (Battle Plan)
Rauh lays out his master plan, with the help of Dramaturg Lindsey Barr. Flawlessly incorporating historical accuracy into a large parody sequence can be tricky, but Barr ensures the facts are present while not compromising the humorous nature of the show. Rauh also sets a concurrent running battle plan, as outlined in the script’s subplot, that keeps the audience thinking about the deeper implications of the show as it unfolds; it’s mind blowing.
Step Four: Practice Thy Mayhem
Stage Combat Choreographer Julia Brandenberry allows for a duality of existence in the fight routines of the performance. The opening scene between Lucy and the Pope is exaggerated, at times even in slow motion; a clear jab at those epic moments in film that are drawn out for far too long. More brutally riotous comic fighting comes into play between Joan and Lucy later in the show. But Brandenberry showcases her dynamic approach by making the fight choreography— or slayer track— when it comes to Lucy’s killing spree quite graphically accurate; a real thriller to watch unfold.
Step Five: Admitting the Truth
Creating truth in a character’s presence on stage is often aided by that character’s appearance. Costume Designer Heather C. Jackson really pays homage to the more iconic notions of Catholicism throughout the production. Lucy’s traditional, albeit slutty, school girl uniform rings true to her ‘badass’ nature. The more demure threads reserved for the scientific mind of Skeeter augment her nerd-like charm. Jackson even takes a hit of the humor giving gorgeous oversized wings to one gate-guardian angel, and cheap way-too-small pink ones to another.
Step Six: Face Thy Opposite
In this case Lucy is placed opposite just about everyone, God, Joan of Arc, various enlightened men and religious icons throughout the centuries, all of whom are played by one man, Chris Dews. With his finest moment arising in the light of ‘puppet Jesus’ Dews is a master of accents, delineating each of his numerous characters with a different one. If chaos is what makes us individuals than Dews is a maelstrom of it whirling through this show. His keen understanding of comic timing and delivery makes scenes like the “Dante-tent-revival” bit an absolute scream. Dews is not without depth, portraying a much darker and more sinister God than any would care to admit they fear. A well-rounded performer with great depth even in his simplest of characters, Dews becomes the everyman in a sense, and does so with vigor.
Step Seven: Face Thyself
Driving the mission of this show is Lucy (Lauren Saunders.) As the narrative figure and main character Saunders creates an indistinguishable existence between the two characters, which is a unique approach to playing someone who breaks the fourth wall to address the audience while still being fully present in her character on stage. The sheer determination and rage with which Saunders approaches the character is intense. The one drawback to her performance is that she starts at the pinnacle of her emotional explosivity; full raging anger and fury from the very beginning and this unfortunately leaves her nowhere to go when the play reaches its climax. To her credit, however, she is consistent in this raging peak of emotions; even her softer moments with Skeeter stem from a vehement passion that is burning furiously inside of her.
Step Eight: The Penultimate Battle
In this case the battle wouldn’t be much of a battle without all of the epic music that has underscored, and in places overtaken, the show. Composer Britt Olsen-Ecker, in conjunction with Jack Sossman on keys, provides brilliant music for the songs that are sung throughout the piece. Sossman takes to singing just before the show; the most irreverent yet hilarious “religious” songs that you’ve ever heard, and it’s a great segue into the show itself. Olsen-Ecker is a talented musician, who gives us a taste of her vocal talents as well during the show.
Step Nine: Face Thine Enemy
While the throw down goes down between Lucy and God, the true enemy is Lucy’s guilt over not being able to save her sister Skeeter (Britt Olsen-Ecker) in many different senses of the word ‘save.’ Olsen-Ecker is an equally impressive performer on the stage, really making her meek and meager presence felt, even if she is the epitome of outcast nerd and has the physicality and nasally voice to prove it. Playing up the ‘abandoned younger sister’ card, Olsen-Ecker provides a great deal of awkward levity to the show’s more tense moments but in the end is just as rooted in her character’s tragic background as Lucy. Her voice, when singing the duet with Saunders in act II is sublime, creating lyrical and physical dissonance between the pair as they vie for the audience’s attention in a very sisterly manner.
Step Ten: Move On
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, with one intermission.
A Beginner’s Guide to Decide plays through October 27, 2013 at Single Carrot Theatre—1727 N. Charles Street in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (443) 844-9253, or purchase them online.