note: entire contents copyright 2001 by Larry Stark
Lighting Design by Karen Perlow
Stage Manager Mark Sickler
Howdy................Korinne T. Hertz
Voice of Ol' Sinc.....Brian Sinclair
Kathleen Rogers' "Arkansas Tornado" is a play with music, not a musical. It concerns the family of an ageing country-western singer (Peter Brown) who feels the need to reconnect with his ex-wife (Kim Crocker) and her sixteen-year-old niece (Korinne T. Hertz), while his 89-year-old mother (Susan Bigger) sits in the background in her old Kentucky home talking to a basket of snakes. Most of these people would rather talk to anyone else --- a home minicam unit, the audience, those snakes --- rather than one another. Many of them talk to the singer's old houn'dog Nicodemus. He's played by Tom Pruneau, and doesn't talk at all. Sings along a little, though.
These actors are excellent, and a lot of the meat of their isolated monologues serves them well. The teen-ager's teletaped episodes of "The Secret History of My Body, Chapter Nine: The lachrymal glands. I never cry..." nail both her adolescent contempt for life and her grudging vulnerability. Apparently a son born to the then-married pair of country singers at the same time she was --- a son who died in infancy --- soured all their lives. The singer admits that he's great at first-lines but can rarely write the middles of his songs --- or his life, apparently. The ex-wife walked away from a marriage to marry a singer who tended to chase any blonde in skirts when on the road (rather than talk to his wife perhaps?), and doesn't want him back. These are all interesting individuals, and the talk of fate and snakeskins gives the matriarch a fascinating air of eternal truth.
If the playwright ever introduces these people to one another, there might be dialogue. There might be fireworks. Instead there is a glacial slide toward one another in confrontations that happen off-stage, between monologues, that implies that despite everything they need each other. It might be nice to allow the audience to eavesdrop on those off-stage confrontations some time. Or is this just another play about the failure of communication?
Technically, it is lovely. A long gauzy scrim at one side of the tall, narrow playing-space provides entrances and exits, and the matriarch appears high up behind a scrim-like cyclorama. Red lights provide an eerie backlight for the singer's dreams of failure and inadequacy. When people start the minicam, Karen Perlow's lights flip to tight isolated areas. And the acting is vibrant throughout. But the eighteen tiny scenes in act one, nine more after the act break --- and every one of them with a descriptive "chapter-head" in the program --- remain a strewn mosaic of isolated snippets that never make up their minds what links them all together.