All gears firing with Machine Theatre’s ThomThom | CLT Blog
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All gears firing with Machine Theatre’s ThomThom

Posted on 10 Jul 2010 by Michael J. Solender

It is folly to pretend that the world is anything but absurd”

… says Matt Cosper, co-founder of Charlotte’s Machine Theater, playwright and author of ThomThom (if that bird won’t sing). “Providing the ability to laugh in the face of absurdity and directly encountering our fears in the theater can provide some structure to the madness in our world.”

Theater goers will find plenty of madness and outright buffoonery in Cosper’s work and Machine Theater’s production of ThomThom which opened last evening to an enthusiastic and respectably numbered crowd at the Duke Energy Theater in Spirit Square.

Want to go? Performances July 8, 9, 10 15, 16, 17 at 8pm
Duke Energy Theater at Spirit Square
Tickets $15, buy online

With ThomThom, Machine celebrates their one year anniversary and fourth production in Charlotte, no small feat in a town that seems loathe to support small, regional theater. Coming off their dark comedy Mum’s the Word earlier this year, Machine has jumped headlong into a realm that requires its audience to suspend their beliefs at the door and allow this performance to rush over them in waves.

Where MTW challenged head on suburban ideals and the institution of marriage through sarcasm and innuendo, ThomThom offers the subtlety of the triple pimento-cheeseburger at the Penguin. The farce is simply too grand to ignore and too bizarre to microscopically analyze.

Refugees from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Jean Louise (Julia Grigg) and Arthur Radley (Robert Haulbrook) are lost in an indeterminate vast forest, searching for home, family and much more than is readily apparent. Arthur offers Jean Louise paternal guidance and comfort in place of direction and true safety as the pair find themselves overwhelmed and somewhat smitten by a collection of vagabonds and misfits that nefariously haunt the same environs as the lost pair.

Jean Louise soon turns cynical and desirous of more than stories of geese flying over snowy fields. There to offer her adventure and excitement that only wizardry can bring is Thom (Barry Newkirk), the youngest and most naive of the motley crew assembled by the very evil and power hungry Magisterial Cort (Cosper in a deliciously dark performance).

Cort’s court is rounded out by Red (in a wonderfully physically comic portrayal by Jeremy Shane), an ever questioning and malcontent Lizzie (Mimi Harkness), and Kate (Barbie VanSchaik) the sagacious alter ego to Cort.

With each possessing foibles and insecurities that would keep Dr. Phil busy for years, the ensuing ego massaging, put downs, power grabs and double dealing make for standout performances at virtually every turn.

Shane is perfectly oafish and over the top as Cort’s clownish number two man. His first act poetic recital and tribute to his father is a screaming riot, both campy and sarcastic. VanSchaik has a face that contorts in ways reminiscent of Charlie Callas. She says more with a look and furrowed brow than many actors can with Shakespearean dialogue.

Cosper saved the most devilish role for himself and deftly captures the maniacal persona of the play’s main foe. His campfire soliloquy stating that “we must be willing to horrify” was chilling.

The wild ride is directed by Machine co-founder Barney Baggett. He brings his love for physical theater front and center as there is seldom a moment where actors are not climbing, running, jumping or dancing. Original songs and music are provided by Machine’s music-man, Jon Lindsay. They work some of the time, hampered by the inability of the cast, save Harkness, to sing.

Don’t let that minor distraction deter you however, as this performance offers theater goers the real deal; Solid writing, fun staging, grand performances all around and just a bit to ponder at the end of the evening.

With our metro population well over one million, performing arts of this caliber should be thriving, not struggling, yet all but the most mainstream and large traveling performances seem to fill our theaters. Time will tell whether Machine can garner the kind of support and following needed to sustain this type of craft in the Queen City.

As the final curtain drops, you may ask yourself if you just attended a funeral or a wedding. The answer? Yes.

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