In today’s excessively divisionary, violent, corrupt political environment, perhaps seeing a weapons-filled show set during an internal war wouldn’t be your immediate go-to of choice. Rapid Lemon Productions’ world premiere of Crusade, by Bruce Bonafede, performed at Theatre Project, however, is well worth blowing a few bucks and burning a third of your weekend to experience for yourself.
The setting is both dystopian and familiar, like Vonnegut, like Orwell, like The Terminator. We’re unnerved by lighting and sound effects, courtesy of Lighting Designer Brad Ranno and Sound Designer Max Garner and immersed immediately in the action. The raked seating inside Theatre Project ensures a great view for everyone and the tech array is impressive. The sixty-minute show, performed without intermission, is a riveting execution of unresolved tension and restrained violence.
Playwright Bruce Bonafede, a veteran of the theater scene in Baltimore and also further afield, delivers believable dialogue, meaty monologues, and situations which are alternately surprising, inevitable, and occasionally, both at once. If some of the sequences lack subtlety, I submit that subtle doesn’t work well nowadays, and also it’s hard to achieve with characters carrying realistic-looking military-grade weapon props.
The cast is fascinatingly watchable, each for different reasons. There are some new, unscripted, nuances to the show that arise from Director Timoth David Copney’s shrewdly offbeat casting. As Galen, Emma Hawthorn is natural, awkward, bewildered, and furious, every inch a delightful protagonist. Playing Kershaw, Stephen Kime, who only joined the cast during Tech Week, fits into the show as if the part had been written for him. Eric Boelsche gives Josh a calm that fractures into naiveté during the course of the action. Lola Reign as Britt undergoes a transformation that ought to seem far-fetched but doesn’t. Noah Silas as Hector offers a strong anchor with enough depth to be interesting. Playing Mitch, Flynn Harne runs into a crisis of character that resonates in its banal predictability, which is one of the main themes of the piece.
Structurally, the show follows literary conventions, so its strongest draw is its immediacy, with audience immersion and a rather desperate intimacy bolstering it. It feels like it’s no more than 20 minutes into the future, except it’s right now, and we’ve clearly ignored all cautionary allegorical fiction. Bonafede’s world in Crusade seems not so much speculative as downright predictive.
Both writer Bonafede and director Copney are packing a lot into sixty minutes’ worth of show, so it would be perfectly understandable if the pacing of the show felt rushed. It doesn’t. Copney balances action and tension with a deft hand and keeps us at seat’s edge until the very last minute.
Running Time: One Hour, without intermission
Crusade, plays through August 18, 2019, by Rapid Lemon Productions in collaboration with the Baltimore Playwrights Festival, at Theatre Project, 45 West Preston Street
Baltimore, MD. Tickets can be purchased by calling (410) 752-8558 or online.