by Michael Meigs
Jason Wells’ black comedy about the chaotic breakdown of the United States sometime in the near future is a near perfect dramatic satire set in the jail and sheriff’s office in the mythical backwater town of Lodus, Missouri, deep in the Ozarks.
Street Corner Arts hit the crests two years ago their first time out, with The Men of Tortuga, another work by Wells, a Chicago-based actor awarded the 2010 Osborn award for an emerging playwright by the American Theatre Critics Association.
Rommel Sulit, Gary Peters and Joe Penrod from the Tortuga cast are back again for this production. Both Wells plays set up scenarios of conspiracy and mock them mercilessly: Tortuga depicts an intervention in Caribbean politics by a collection of suits with manicures and shiny shoes, and North Plan shows the downhome effects of a U.S. government breakdown and a fascist putsch attempt.
This wildly funny evening is manna for the crowd of cheerfully skeptical youngish theatre-lovers who constitute the primary audience at the Hyde Park Theatre, the sorts who enjoy over-the-edge programming by HPT’s Ken Webster, Mark Pickell’s Capital T Theatre, and the eponymous A Chick and a Dude Productions of Shanon Weaver and Melissa Livingston-Weaver. Street Corner Arts is right up there with them in Austin savvy and gleeful insouciance.
The North Plan opens in the jail behind a sheriff’s office in the remote Ozarks, where Tanya, a bedraggled, loud and angry trailer-trash woman is trying to talk her way out of detention. Her rant directed toward Shona the studious female warden (Kristen Bennett) is lengthy, disconnected and extremely funny. Indigo Rael with her lean, slinky athletic body and controlled fury has played similar characters before, and she burns like an unsecured live wire throughout this show.
A noisy offstage argument erupts behind the audience during Tanya's energetic pleas and imprecations, and then the impertrubable Chief of Police Swenson (Gary Peters) marches in a rumpled mid-level former government official Carlton Berg (Rommel Sulit). Rapid fire dialogue from the urgently pleading Berg, interrupted by Tanya’s acid commentary, reveals that Berg has absconded with the enemies list of the repressive would-be government far away in the black hole of Washington, where the Army and Marine contingents are dug in at opposite ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, getting ready for a clash.
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