Heller Theatre opened its season last weekend with Richard Dresser's Wonderful World, directed by Lisa Stefanic.
As the play opens, Jennifer and Max (Susan Dergoul and Grey Cavitt) are eagerly anticipating the arrival of Max's family. Jennifer is nervous and semi-neurotic, and Max, though trying, I suppose, to be supportive, is sort of unconcerned and a little rude in his mannerisms and the way he speaks to his fiancée.
The two are to be married, and Max lets slip that when they first became engaged, he had thoughts--frequent thoughts--of her death, of killing her a number of ways. Apparently he has a bad perception of marriage because his parents' relationship was such a poor example of the institution, and the only way he could get out of the whole thing, he felt, was if she were dead.
She freaks out, obviously, and then enters the awaited party--minus one.
Max's brother Barry (Jerry Fuller) has arrived, but without his wife, his "darling Patty" (Bonny Baker), who felt as though she were not invited to the family gathering. Barry goes on and on about how rude Max was to have neglected to invite his darling Patty and how upset he is and how Max should apologize right away--before it's too late.
After some time, Max and Jennifer finally let slip what they actually think of darling Patty--that she's an intimidating, controlling, bullying bitch (in not as many words), which one might gather from the way her bumbling husband seems brainwashed into defending her honor and groveling at her feet.
And the first act goes on like this for another hour. All of these characters, including Lydia, Max and Barry's mother (Marti Malone) have these really extreme, really annoying personalities. They're all so bizarre that they're obnoxious, and there isn't one thread of normalcy to hold all the crazy together.
They spend their time talking behind one another's backs (and quite literally, too--rarely is there an elongated dialogue during which the characters speak to one another face-to-face. They spend the majority of the first act talking to the back of each other's heads), telling each other what they want to hear and then getting so frustrated that the truth "accidentally" slips out.
It all kind of grated on my nerves. I didn't like these characters. I didn't like their relationships with one another. But, at the same time, they were all very real. They were fatally flawed and severely dysfunctional and in ways that members of the audience could relate to. I heard more than one person comment that they knew someone just like the characters on stage.
Each couple looks to the other to feel better about themselves, and each son looks to his mother for someone to blame his bad relationship on.
As annoyed and frustrated as I was in the first act, I was pleasantly surprised during the second. Max and Jennifer are once again awaiting the arrival of Max's family, but this time, it's Thanksgiving. Barry and Patty are separated (you find out why at the end of Act One, but I won't give it away here), but Patty shows up and soon the truth starts spilling from everyone's lips.
Then, Lydia tells a story, a story that may mean that she and her husband were actually happy once, that Max's misgivings about marriage are all unfounded and that everything could, someday, be right in the world.
But then she stops speaking. They take her to the hospital, but weeks pass and she remains mute. And suddenly, the rest of the members of the family actually begin to care about someone other than themselves. Jennifer begins to care for Lydia, Max for Jennifer and Patty and Barry for each other.
The characters are humanized, and whatever one good quality they have about them finally shows, so I don't hate them anymore. At the end, the story is finally told, the truth finally emerges, and you do wonder--is it for better or worse?
Wonderful World continues this weekend, Thurs., Oct. 4 through Sat., Oct. 6 at 8pm at Heller Theatre, 5328 S. Wheeling. Tickets are $7. For more information, visit www.hellertheatre.com, and to make reservations, call 746-5065.
At the Galleries
Opening at Living Arts this weekend is "Holy/Oil," an installation by the local WAKOW! Collective, a group of writers, musicians and photographers, which includes Mindy Stricke (photographer), Nathan Halverson (musician), David Goldstein and G. Matthew Jenkins (writers).
"Holy/Oil" is a multimedia work that explores the relationship between oil and religion in Tulsa--culturally, ethically and aesthetically. The group visited sites in Tulsa that are associated with either religion or oil and the regional history of each, photographed, wrote about and recorded what they saw, felt and heard at these sites and then edited and organized them into an installation exhibit, accompanied by other images, text and sounds related to Tulsa and Oklahoma.
The exhibit opens this Thurs., Oct. 4 at Living Arts, 308 S. Kenosha, with an artists' reception from 5 to 8pm. The exhibit will continue through October 25.
Next door, at Liggett Studios, 314 S. Kenosha, will open a new exhibit of mixed media work by Nancy Smart-Carlson called "Off Center," comprised of assemblages of wood, glass lenses, collage, paint, paper and pencil.
The exhibit is very organic, expressing Smart-Carlson's desire for wholeness, saneness, aesthetics and a strong and safe environment. She uses found and "green" materials, rich colors, homegrown wood and recycled objects in her work.
In her artist's statement, she encourages viewers to "renew their symmetrical and asymmetrical center, to strive, to reconnect and find common, sensible on and Off Center balanced solutions."
"Off Center" opens this Thursday, with a reception from 5 to 8pm, and will hang through October 25. Both of the exhibits at Living Arts and Liggett Studios are free and open to the public (with donations welcome), and for more information, visit www.livingarts.org.
Also on Thursday, a new exhibit will open at the Dennis R. Neill Equality Center art gallery, at 621 E. 4th St., called "Out of the Closet: A T-Shirt Retrospective."
The show is from the private collection of Tom Neal, whose LGBT-themed T-shirts he hopes will offer an insight into the history of the gay rights movement through T-shirt design. The exhibit opens with a reception from 6 to 9pm on Thursday and will hang through the end of October. For more information, including gallery hours, visit www.okeq.org.
And on Friday night, the Tulsa Artists' Coalition Gallery, 9 E. Brady, will open "Food for Thought," an exhibition of photo art quilts and three-dimensional photo-fiber constructions by Elia Woods, all of which examine the interaction between people and their environment--namely, what they eat, where and how their food is grown and how it impacts their body and the earth.
"What we eat has profound implications for our own health and the health of our planet," Woods writes in her artist's statement. "As a gardener, I have the once common experience of getting to know my food from seed to harvest. As an artist, I visually explore these foods and the connections between food, community, consumerism and spiritual sustenance."
"Food for Thought" opens this Friday, with a reception from 6-9pm and will continue through October 27. The exhibit is free and open to the public, and, to learn more, visit www.tacgallery.org.
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