Set in a vague suburban neighborhood on an equally vague Sunday morning, wife Barb (Allie Long) gives her husband Walt (Christopher Meister) the option to have anything his teeny tiny little bee bop heart desires – which, after much prodding, eventually ends in a request for “blueberry toast”. However, when Barb whips up an almost too literal interpretation of this request – white bread plopped with a mountain of sugared blueberries – her husband cringes at her breakfast concoction, insisting that what he asked for was “blueberry pancakes”, not her Frankenberry creation, which only adds to his already predisposed disgust towards his wife that has built up throughout their marriage. Yet, while the blueberry toast travesty is busy unveiling a slew of marital dysfunction, their children, Jack (Chris Acevedo) and Jill (Kelly Parker), are busy writing a play that seems to unveil its own slew of humanity-inspired dysfunction.
The script, written by Mary Laws, is brilliantly dark, gritty, and infiltrated with massive strokes of Pinter-esque absurdity. Everything about the plot is dependent on an extravagantly heightened sense of risk, paired with how those risks are delivered. Unfortunately, in an attempt to measure up to Ms. Laws’s work, the direction and overall production of Tympanic’s execution only succeeds in hitting a handful of these ever-growing heights as the show gets lost in its own interpretation.
The main issue here is one of tone. The leads, Barb and Walt, feel as if they derive from two separate worlds – and not merely because the subject matter revolves around a wildly misconceived marriage. Stylistically, Ms. Long and Mr. Meister are mismatched. Long plays Barb with as a cloying caricature of bubbly optimism that would feel more fitting in a cartoonish interpretation of the piece, while Meister’s Walt is firmly planted in a naturalistic, straight rendition of the show. Sure, they are playing a married couple – and a crap suburbia one at that – defined by their differences in aesthetic, but in this case, the differing aesthetics feel as if they are being led by two directors with vastly separate visions. Admittedly, there are moments where the chemistry between the two does come together, often at the show’s most violent and physical peaks (with the exception of a few choreographed incidents that lack assertiveness in execution in general, making the violent encounters look almost farcical). However, because the pair is so mismatched throughout the rest of the show, quieter scenes that should technically possess the same heightened drama via subtext or tension becomes, well, bland. Crusty. As off-putting as Walt seems to find his Frankenberry toast.
The children, on the other hand, as portrayed by Acevedo and Parker, are the most consistent elements of the production – adding touches of morose genius the script so desperately wants to flaunt. Their periodic interruptions to their parents’ therapy-inducing behavior become most welcome indeed, displaying a humor and, dare I say, lightness the playwright has seemingly intended. But even with their noble efforts, it’s not enough to keep this production steady with a direct purpose, and the results are almost as messy as, say, a suburbia marriage.
Blueberry Toast runs at Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Avenue, until March 13th. Show times are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 P.M., with Sunday matinees at 2 P.M. Tickets are $20, with $15 discounted tickets for students, industry professionals, and senior citizens, and may be purchased online or at (773) 935-6875.