Feb 06-Feb 22, 2004
Nothing squirrely about one-man play at Black Box
- by Jim Early, Sun News [ Page 4C, Friday, February 20, 2004 ]
After the No Strings Theatre Company's most recent production of "Circumference of a Squirrel: A Riff with an Innertube," director Ceil Herman shared with me her biggest concern.
"I'm worried," she said, "that people will look at the play's wierd title and think this is some experimental piece where everyone's naked or something."
So, let's set the record straight. This is not Shock Theatre. However, the play is daring and modernist in the best sense of these two words. Playwright John Walch's pressure-cooker approach to drama compresses an expansive story into one intense act. Walch asks one thing only from the lone actor (in this case the enormously talented Scott Lunsford) stranded on a spare stage spotted with a few inner tubes: Explore the meaning deeply embedded within the overly ambitious feeding habits of squirrels in such a way that, by the play's end, we begin to comprehend the very nature of anger itself.
And, speaking to the director's second concern, I can confirm that there is no nudity in this play. There is plenty of nakedness, however, of the soul-baring variety.
"Circumference of a Squirrel" is a rare gem indeed, the Black Box Theatre is just the right showcase for it, and Scott Lunsford's "take no prisoners" performance proves once and for all that witnessing an actor matched with the right material is as glorious as listening to Beethoven performed by a virtuoso.
In this era of spectacle, it is easy to forget that a well-crafted line of dialogue is all a good actor needs to make drama, comedy, or (better yet) both. Frankly, Lunsford's greatest ccomplishment here is his studied respect for and clear comprehension of Walch's lyrical prose. Having tamed the words, Lunsford lets fly with the story, and what a story it is.
Our hero is Chester (Lunsford), a graduate student on the most dreaded of detours, "the leave of absence." translation: Chester has stared into too many microscopes at too many microorganisms. He has lost the big picture of life.
In fact, Chester has lost many things, including most, if not all, of his major relationships. All of the losses haunt him, but the one that still burns in his solar plexus when he dares remember it is the one he had with his father. Generally one senses that Chester tries not to think about his father much. But one day, an audacious squirrel tries to haul a bagel up a tree, and Chester's past floods through him. In that flood, the flotsam of childhood guilt, family prejudice, and accumulating anger surround Chester, propelling him toward a dramatic reckoning with his father's legacy.
Playwright Walch packs horsepower into tightly worded observations. Chester remembers how his father would watch, as he called it, "The Wheel of the Fortunate," during which "Vanna White would begin the strip tease of language." Our scientist in training also remembers the minutiae of life, and his vivid memories hunt him down at this moment of crisis. He remembers how, to his boy's mind, his father's squirrel bite seemed like such a mortal wound that Chester was sure that only "an isthmus" of flesh connected the toe to the rest of the body. In the house Chester once shared with his wife, wine glasses are remembered as hanging upside down from the rack "like silent bats."
Humor and pathos mix dangerously in such carefully crafted language and Lunsford makes the most of this volatile combination. I so often "see" actors acting that I sometimes forget that the best acting is invisible. By the time "Circumference of a Squirrel" careened toward its searing climax, I could find no sign of Lunsford or the inner-tubes anywhere on the stage.
Instead there was only Chester sifting through his memories, trying to understand how the littlest events had gathered such unbearable weight through the remembering of them.
No seating plan has been posted.