I’ve been ranting lately about the dearth of cutting-edge drama in Louisville (with notable exceptions). Santa read my wish list and brought me 12 boxes of angst wrapped in the funny pages. In her directorial debut, Becky Grider takes a stab at offbeat drama in “The Anger Box.” Written by playwright Jeff Goode, author of more than 50 plays, “The Anger Box” is a thought-provoking, gut-busting collection of monologues pondering the Big Question: Does God exist? And if so, why do bad things happen to ordinary people?
The show opens with “Anger Box,” which smacks you in the face like a crazed jack-in-the-box spewing venom. Joe Hatfield delivers a tirade against a murdered Muslim gas-station owner. Under suspicion for this “hate crime,” we learn this guy can’t stand foreigners who are able to open their own businesses after being in the United States for a short time, while he struggles to keep up the payments on his beloved truck. Hatfield never eases up on the volume, making this deafening opener a bit of a turn-off. Likewise, the next bit, “Santa Worship,” is an assault, bombarding the audience with the faux cheery ramblings of a nonsensical ex-Christian (Ginger Pennington).
Thankfully, Antonia Lindauer turns down the noise in the hilarious “Popophilia,” about a teenage virgin who longs to birth the Pope’s baby. Point by ridiculous point, her logic makes her plot seem sensible.
Producer Rich Galey delivers the play’s somber message in “None-Believer,” which turns John Lennon’s “Imagine” on its head. Imagine there is a heaven, and these years on Earth are your one chance to get in — people might be a little nicer to each other.
Katherine Mapother is showcased in “Godburger,” reminiscent of John Waters’ “Serial Mom.” This right-wing Bible thumper pays attention when God tells her “Carol Anne is a little bitch who deserves whatever she’s got coming to her.” Beware the Godburger. Mapother is brilliant as the avenging scorned housewife.
Aaron Stover turns in impressive performances in “Penis/Pussy,” about a man wondering why some people aren’t content with their genitalia, and “Fucking Satan.” These were the evening’s standouts. Stover is scrumptious in “Fucking Satan” (a monologue usually acted by a female) in which he sits sipping tea in his bear-claw slippers, discussing his relationship with the Lord of the Underworld.
Janice Walter is delightful as wait-spirit “Charon,” the cranky ferryman who guides the dead across the river Acheron.
While the evening’s crowd-pleaser, “Dog Lover” with Kevin Butler, was funny, it doesn’t share the themes of the other pieces, and thus sticks out like a sore thumb. Olga-Maria Cruz, who has opera credits as a soprano, doesn’t sing here, but her delivery is musical as the angry Nike, Goddess of Victory. She is jealous of Jesus, who made the goal of winning obsolete. Cruz, a true delight, is like a cross between Meg Tilly and my favorite actor, Susan Tyrell.
In “Serial Nun,” Grace Poganski portrays a nun who is rather like the Vodoun spirit Erzulie Dantor, the feisty version of the Virgin Mary, protector of women and avenger of domestic violence. This tough-talking nun sees nothing wrong in choking abusive men while they’re in confession. Poganski sailed through the role with perfect timing and a pinpoint accurate Queens accent as she mocked her victims’ last words.
After unwrapping almost all the packages, we’re given “This Rock,” a depressing monologue about questioning one’s faith after 9/11. Elaine Hackett is faultless as the doubting Thomas, but 9/11 is becoming tiresome in most of its theatrical presentations. This is one present I’d like to exchange. Nobody wants a box of rocks for Christmas.