What do sea lions, circus freaks, and 19th century gang violence have in common?
But they all feature prominently in Spooky Action Theater’s intriguing, baffling, and brilliantly designed world Premiere of Last of the Whyos, a new play by New York-based playwright Barbara Wiechmann.
I won’t presume to elaborate on what the play, directed by Rebecca Holderness, is about, per se, but the bones of the story are this: Eddie Farrell (played by the marvelous Michael Evin Darnall) is the titular King of the Whyos, a violent street gang-for-hire in 1880s New York. Everything’s going fine for Eddie, until he starts seeing mysterious visions of the future (which happens to be 1980s New York). Justifiably disturbed, Eddie aims to quit the game entirely, much to the displeasure of his benefactor and pseudo-father, Sweeney (the dapper Randolph Curtis Rand). After Sweeney gives Eddie mysterious instructions to carry out “one last job”, Eddie is swept a hundred years into the future, where he lands on the same (but very different) Coney Island of his lifetime. It is here that he meets the circus freaks: Ruby, an alligator skinned man (Elliot Bales), his wife Priscilla, an ape-woman (Bette Cassatt), and the 400 pound woman (the marvelous Lady Dane Figueroa Edidi), who offer to take him under their wing.
A fantastical situation, to be sure, but relatively straight forward, as far as tales of time travelling 19th century gangsters go. But Last of the Whyos gets much stranger: Eddie’s last, botched hit job (the compellingly waifish Tia Shearer) appears again in the 1980s, re-incarnated as Ada Ann, a Coney Island tour guide whose Christian fundamentalist parents committed suicide when she was young. Meanwhile, the American Psycho-esque lawyer (Seamus Miller) who Eddie saw in his visions – known as The Businessman in the program, but who calls himself Edward Farrell in the play (another re-incarnation?) – is an abusive and possibly pedophilic creepster whose obsession with Ada Ann ends in tragedy. Punctuating this odd web of stalking, lust, and sideshow is the appearance of Sweeney, in full robber baron garb, who strolls around the stage on occasion singing 19th century ditties.
Last of the Whyos is a big play in every sense, from its length to the scope of its ambition. Director Rebecca Holderness and Stage Designer Vicki R. Davis deserve heaps of praise for creating a set with brilliant visual impact. This is not an easy script to stage, leaping from location to location, sometimes in mid-sentence. But utilizing a smart usage of space, clever screens, and a compelling light and projection design by Matthew E. Adelson, the action flows, unbelievably, smoothly. There’s a lot going on in Last of the Whyos. As a new play, there will hopefully be opportunities to workshop the script in an effort to increase cohesion and clarity. That being said, it remains an intriguing piece of work that is certainly worth seeing.
Running Time: 2 hours and thirty minutes, with one ten-minute intermission.
Last of the Whyos plays through March 1, 2015 at Spooky Action Theater, performing at Universalist National Memorial Church – 1810 16th Street NW, in Washington, DC. Tickets can be purchased at the door or online.
Meet the Cast and Director of Spooky Action Theater’s ‘Last of the Whyos’: Part One: Meet Randolph Curtis Rand by Roberta Alves.
Meet the Cast and Director of Spooky Action Theater’s ‘Last of the Whyos’: Part Two: Meet Michael Kevin Darnall by Roberta Alves.
Meet the Cast and Director of Spooky Action Theater’s ‘Last of the Whyos’: Part Three: Meet Tia Shearer by Roberta Alves.