"Humpty Dumpty" provides intense theatre experience

Apr 23, 2014

Credit Illinois Central College

Illinois Central College closes its current theatre season with Humpty Dumpty,” which uses the children’s nursery rhyme as a metaphor for contemporary life. Stan Strickler has this review for Peoria Public Radio and the Live Theatre League of Peoria. Opinions expressed are those of the reviewer, not those of Peoria Public Radio or the Live Theatre League.

“Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall”

We are all familiar with the childhood nursery rhyme, and Eric Bogasian uses that to great effect in his play, “Humpty Dumpty” which depicts the fall of people left to their own fears.  A great fall and a shattering of their lives becomes apparent as their life unravels and -- like the egg in the nursery rhyme -- they crack.

The plays opens at a summer cabin in the north woods surrounded by trees and a cheery interior.  Into this idyllic scene come two couples, Max and Nicole, and Troy and Spoon.  They are on vacation, wanting to get away from their hectic big city lives.  Max is a writer supported by his agent wife.  Troy makes movies, and Spoon leads a life of glamour in Hollywood.  Their desire to get away to a more rural environment seems desirable.  However their lives are altered as the electricity goes out, and they are stranded for over two weeks.  Their veneer of civilization starts to crack as they endure the hardships of no phone reception, no gasoline and a constant diet of eggs.  Eventually the characters’ social veneer begins to disintegrate leading to tragic results.

Robin Berkley has assembled an excellent cast who ably dissolve into madness as their world begins to change.  Ryan Groves as Max shows his desire for a quiet vacation as the play opens.  He is enamored of the scenery and shows his delight in the remote location.  His descent into madness is convincing as he argues with his wife, and eventually gives in to his fears.  Also outstanding is Arianna Morgan as Nicole, the high-maintenance demanding agent.  She shouts to her underlings and her fears grow more and more pronounced as she is convinced that the electrical outage is caused by terrorists and they may be the only people left. 

Also quite good are Ethan Johnson as Troy and Hannah Gidcumb as Spoon.  Ethan sometimes talks a little fast, but I think it is a mark of his character since he is a Hollywood wheeler-dealer.  Hannah is effective when she returns to the cabin in the second act, having run into trouble after she tried to escape from the cabin.  Her agony is well done.  Logan Henderson as Nat the caretaker is capable in an extremely understated role.  He begins as the helpful neighbor, but as time goes on he arouses suspicions.  The ending of the play finally gives him a real acting opportunity, and he rises to the occasion ably and well.

Robin Berkely wisely chose not to have blackouts between scenes.  Instead the characters stay on stage throughout every scene change, accompanied by music that grows more and more ominous as the play progresses.  This decision helps speed the play along, and allows for quick scene changes.  The music and lighting also help the audience keep track of the changing time, and the use of the calendar to note changing days and weeks is also helpful. 

Another standout is the beautiful set designed by Chris Gray.  It is on two levels with doorways to various upstairs rooms.  It evokes very realistically an upscale vacation home in the north woods.  The trees surrounding the cabin add an air of mystery and foreboding.  Lighting design by Rob Fulton is effective as the play progress from day to night during the scene dissolves.  And the fireplace lighting is effective, casting flickering shadows on the rear wall.  All in all this was an intense theatrical experience created by a great director, capable cast and great technical staff.

“Humpty Dumpty” continues through Sunday at the ICC Performing Arts Center in East Peoria. Tickets, and more information, are available at artsaticc.com.