Arts & Events

Theater Review: Collapse, at the Aurora

By Ken Bullock
Wednesday February 16, 2011 - 08:11:00 AM

"On a mission ... embracing the fear!" A couple trying to have a baby—“All we can do is go to the clinic and hope for the best!"—is suddenly confronted at home by the wife's ecstatically homeless sister, returning from a trip to move in with them ... and carrying a package to be delivered to some party with a gamey handle ... 

Thereby, an odyssey begins, over the bridges of Minneapolis, as Hannah (Carrie Pfaff) meets a recovering sex addict, Ted (Aldo Billingslea), as she attempts to sub in for her reticent husband David (Gabriel Marin) at a support group. She, more than figuratively, cries on Ted's shoulder, as David and Hannah's batty sister Susan (Amy Resnick) drink it up at home. Then David is deputized by Susan to deliver the unopened package from abroad ... 

Flurries of screwball activity and ridiculous, funny dialogue get the audience that far, anyway, with the plot—is it involuted or convoluted?—of Collapse. The new comedy, by Allison Moore, emerged from the Aurora Theatre's Global Age Project play-reading development series for a fully-staged Rolling World Premiere on the Aurora stage, the second to be so honored. (The first was last year's excellent The First Grade, by Joel Drake Johnson.) 

And Collapse is a winner, too, madly entertaining, with a jaundiced, parallax view of private individuals and public events in contemporary life. Like The First Grade, though very different, Collapse gracefully skirts the cliches and superficialities of the sitcom, employing real, dense theatrical dialogue and situations to put—or tip!—the point across. 

Filmmaker Howard Hawks, one of the architects of the screwball comedy onscreen, once said that the only difference between drama and comedy was that the obstacles in the way of a dramatic protagonist provide the tension as they're overcome, whereas the same obstacles in a comedy are there only for the humorous embarrassment of the comic hero. 

Obstacles abound, pile up as the couple goes round and round and round again, with missed beats, missed connections, misunderstandings, each mistake screwing the whole comedy of errors deeper into the grain of the action. 

Husband David has been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, a victim of the collapse of the bridge over the Mississippi in the Twin Cities in August 2008. Moore, who lived in Minneapolis then, connected the bridge failure to the economic collapse a couple of months later, and this fast-paced, savvy send-up of contemporary fast-paced, frustrated life was born. 

Melpomene Katakalos' set is dominated by the girders of the bridge, as Moore put it, "the ever-present reminder" to Minneapolitans of what had happened, as they scurried for months to find other routes to and fro. The superstructure figures in the last, hysterical scenes of the play, as if, say, North By Northwest had become a wacked-out domestic comedy. 

The show is sharply directed by GAP director Jessica Heidt in her Aurora mainstage debut—and it’s an auspicious one. The actors—all familiar to Bay Area audiences—shine with her direction and Moore's script and dialogue, build up marvelously comic rhythms amid the driving tempos of much of the play's hecticness and more subtly comic moments during dynamically opposite moments. They deliver an unending stream of delicious comic lines, attitudes and facial expressions, often several in counterpoint in rapid succession. 

Heather Basarab's lights, Cassandra Carpenter's costumes and Will McCandless' sound all contribute to the hilarious overall effect. 

It's one of those increasingly rare shows that can be seen for entertainment or considered as a comic glimpse of the madness we're living through. The Global Age project has struck it again. 

Collapse by Allison Moore, Aurora Theatre Co. Wednesday through Sunday (some Tuesdays), various times, through March 6, 2081 Addison (near Shattuck), $10-$45, 843-4042;