Forum Theatre Holly Down in HeavenBy Genie Baskir • Oct 2nd, 2012 • Category: Reviews
Round House Theatre, Silver Spring, MD
Through October 20th
2:10 with intermission
$25/$20 seniors, Subscribers/$15 Under 30 years old
Reviewed September 29th, 2012
What does an arrogant, spoiled, bratty 15-year-old girl do to destroy the loving father for whom she is the light of his life? That may be the thesis of Forum Theatre’s world premiere of Holly Down in Heaven by Kara Lee Corthrun. It’s hard to tell.
There are too many themes running through this flawed, but nevertheless, engrossing play. Is this a reverse “Toy Story” where the toys abandon the child instead of the other way around? Is this a piece about redemption and the myriad ways to achieve it? Is it an object lesson in mourning a loss? Or is it simply the satisfying one, two punch of wimpy adults finally standing up to an incorrigible little brat? Or maybe it’s a horror show and Chuckie has evolved into a tea ceremony Geisha doll lacing a pregnant girl’s tea with abortifacient herbs. Where is The Exorcist when we need him? Damned if I know.
Holly Brannigan (Maya Jackson) is supposed to be a brilliant and so-called gifted and talented young woman. That’s a conceit perpetrated by aspirational, shallow thinking people who believe the ability to memorize and repeat facts is more than some sort of idiot savantish parlor trick. Holly is not brilliant. She is egotistic, malicious and peremptory. She is also pregnant by the local doofus (Parker Drown) whose own claim to brilliance is his research and testing protocol of Coca Cola and Pop Rocks in combination. Holly has adopted for herself born again religious fanaticism and its severe moral restrictions, while at the same time getting boned by Mr. Wizard (just joking, Don Herbert). Holly’s self-imposed penance is to religiously exile herself to the basement of her home to gestate and atone for her sins. She is joined by her impressive doll collection, her only friends, who continue to chatter at her as they did when she was still a little girl. This is weird and maybe even a bit demonic. Has Kara Lee Corthrun been reading the Malleus Mallificarum?
Holly’s father, Brannigan (KenYatta Rogers), is the enabler of this little knocked up tyrant and he sublimates his hurt at her abuse and his disappointment in her pregnancy by indulging her with gifts, extra love and by being her doormat. Brannigan hires a tutor, Mia (Dawn Thomas), for Holly who will not leave the basement and must study there. Mia is a graduate student whose low self-esteem compels her to become a f*ck buddy for any man who will smile at her, including the deluded Brannigan, and to absorb Holly’s abuse. Together these three must coexist and advance as Holly’s pregnancy advances; but, in the end, it is the imbecile baby daddy who has the most authentic claim in this play and comes through for Holly when she and her duo of losers need him the most.
Holly’s religious extremism evinces itself via her belief that she is God’s favorite. Her dolls reinforce this certainty by agreeing with her, mostly. The doll chatter is the medium between Holly and the spiritual world that is not necessarily consistent with fundamentalism. The leader of the dolls is a ventriloquist’s dummy, Dr. McNuthin, who is supposed to be an incarnation of Carol Channing, but instead looks more like Honey Boo Boo. Carol Channing/Honey Boo Boo is onto Holly and challenges Holly and her religious double-dealing for itself and on behalf of the other dolls. In the end, it becomes clear that Holly is not punishing her father by getting pregnant. She is punishing him by adhering to her fundamental religious affectations and separating herself from him by maintaining her holier than he disposition all the while behaving in a most unholy way and making him beg for succor and maybe a soupcon of regard. Both of them are mourning the loss of Holly’s mother, who is supposed to have died but just may be using that for an excuse (thank you, Groucho Marx).
The most creative affectation in this play is that the dolls are not only voiced by a cast of actors, the actors appear on stage holding and manipulating the individual doll characters. This is at once distracting, yet compelling. The dolls have the most to lose in this play because once Holly delivers they will become the mere detritus of her life as she advances too quickly into the emotional and psychological encumbrances of emerging adulthood. Thus, her favorite doll, the Geisha, offers her spiked tea in order to induce a spontaneous abortion. Carol Channing/Honey Boo Boo calls out the geisha just in time to save Holly’s pregnancy. Holly twists the head off of the Geisha doll and the dolls retaliate by going silent. Holly has crossed over, never to be a child again and the betrayed dolls are heard from no more. Yes, this is the play.
The second act of the play is decidedly different from the first and leaves one wondering if a different play has commenced with the same actors. The ending was not satisfying and the issue of the dolls was left hanging. Will they ever chatter again? Will the Geisha try to kill anyone else? However, Mia takes just enough of Holly’s abuse to lose control and starts beating her up. It’s Rockem Sockem Robots time as a grown woman starts pummeling a near term pregnant child. That was really good. Who knew home schooling could be this exciting? And Mia’s delicious apology for the beat down at the end is priceless. “That was just…so…inappropriate….”
Director Michael Dove made some interesting, in a good way, choices in his presentation of and interpretation of the dolls. Some girls cast off their girlhood buddies without a second thought while others cling to their favorite and most intimate companions forever…sort of like Leo Bloom’s blue blanket. Using live actors to make the dolls ambulatory as they mounted their conspiracy gave body to a somewhat static narrative and the silence of the dolls at the end was actually deafening. The basement set (Steven T. Royal) was authentic and confining and kept the show intimate when it could have been sprawling. It is also as proportionately creepy as the play itself; but without the doll chatter, the story stops. The jack in the box music (Thomas Sowers) added a malign strangeness to this play while the panoply of dolls (Debra Crerie, Kay Rzasa) made for an arresting visual exposition of the narrative. The theatre bills this as a comedy, but this is no comedy by any stretch of the imagination. If this is hilarious, then it is perverse.
If ever there is a remake of Green Acres, Parker Drown will be Eb the farm hand. His rubber face and clueless demeanor belied the prescience that ultimately redeemed this play. Maya Jackson, KenYatta Rogers and Dawn Thomas gave able performances of characters that would be truly fictional by today’s standards. Instead of removing herself to the basement, Holly should have inked a deal with MTV and gone on the Dr. Phil show with her father. The doll business really required an exorcist and there is probably an AMC television show that will cast them for a zombie series. The point of this play is truly bewildering in that the devil ends up being the fundamental religious extremism that Holly uses to kick her father in the head. But if that is the case then there is no redemption for anyone as religious fanatics redeem themselves; so certain are they of their own righteousness. But Holly needs Brannigan and Mia and she needs the dolls which would be considered some sort of satanic influence by any other religious fundamentalist except that Holly is exceptional in the eyes of the Lord and thus she can talk to dolls when no one else can; unless they want to be tried for witchcraft and that play has already been written. Get where this is going? There are no angels in the details here. In addition to this, the most satisfying moment is when Mia administers her inappropriate thrashing to Holly. Is the audience meant to abet child abuse in order to complete the sneeze? Jackson’s portrayal of Holly is so unforgiving that who cares what happens to her? Drown is compelling in his nimble actions onstage and his evolution from butthead idiot to full knowledge of what he did to Holly and what it all means is deserving of more attention by the playwright. He is an unfinished character while Mia gets to shtup Brannigan, break up with him and still keep Holly. Huh?
The play is not bad to have to watch, but there is no satisfaction in the end of this story. The ending is not consistent with the beginning of the story and the playwright ventures into a religious minefield that creates more dramatic and liturgical problems than it solves. There are just too many questions generated by the story and no answers in the end. If an audience comes to a drama for cathartic relief from its collective daily existence there is no relief here. This story is either too strange to be believed and thus fails as a drama or it is so much stranger than truth as to be an exercise in absurdism, which I don’t think Kara Lee Corthrun intended. Who knows what it is?
Photos provided by Forum Theatre
- Holly: Maya Jackson
- Mia: Dawn Thomas
- Dad: KenYatta Rogers
- Yager: Parker Drown
- Dr. McNuthin: Vanessa Strickland
- Dolls: Luke Cieslewicz
- Dolls: KyoSin
- Director: Michael Dove
- Production Stage Manager: Stephanie Junkin
- Technical Director: Jameson Shroyer
- Scenic Designer: Steven T. Royal
- Sound Designer: Thomas Sowers
- Costume Designer: Denise Umland
- Properties Designers: Debra Crerie, Kay Rzasa
- Fight Choreographer: Cliff Williams III
Disclaimer: Forum Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/8692.
Genie Baskir is a theatrical producer. She worked in radio production and direction for many years and gravitated to theatre when family members became involved with the stage.