When I walked into last night’s production of Life and Limb, at Tulane University’s Lab Theatre I knew little more about the show than it takes place during the Korean War era in America, and that it is a black comedy of sorts. For some reason I had thought the show had been written during that era, and then quickly realized it must be more contemporary because of its sometimes shocking language and imagery. This wasn’t going to be some stodgy revival, and the very young audience and I got excited.
It turns out that Life and Limb was the first play by Keith Reddin, written in 1984. The play starts out with a funny and touching farewell scene on the Atlantic City boardwalk between a husband going off to war (Franklin) and his wife (Effie). We quickly learn that Effie is a fanatic for the movies, and her fantasy world at the movies provides a safety valve any time she can’t deal with the reality of her life, especially when her husband comes home; wounded, angry, and unemployed. In an early scene Effie tries to explain to the audience the Korean War conflict, aided by video projections, only to get distracted and retell the plot of a picture she’s just seen. This theme–of movies, comic strips, and consumer products distracting any and all serious discussion of world events or problems at home–recurs. Sound familiar?
The villain, Tod Cartmell, was wonderfully played by Jessie Friedman who was a last minute stand-in for a a very ill Joe Eichner. Mr. Friedman did an fantastic job, taking on a challenging and essential part, while still playing the two other roles (!) he had in the show. Tod Cartmell is a small time war profiteer cum captain of industry cum middle-management lord of the underworld, who subjects all the characters of the play to continuous, shocking humiliations. Well, all except his spoiled and pampered son, who made me think of Paris Hilton for some reason.
The play eventually descends to hell, which is a place where people divide their time between being micromanaged while performing repetitive, menial tasks and then shopping in a store in which they are bombarded with advertisement. Sound familiar?
The set and costume design evolve from a sort of–dare I say it–Latin American revolutionary red and brown to, later, prison blues, with the occasional burst of Effie in yellow, when things are hopeful. The projections throughout the performance definitely help aid the attention span of a modern audience–not that this show doesn’t have a wonderful pace–while also bringing home the barrage of media images that started to rapidly increase in the time period of Life and Limb–about the time every American home was getting a TV–and which continues today.
With wonderful performances by Brendan Bowen as Franklin, Mary Katherine Brake as Effie, and Shannon March as the Romanian neighbor, Doina. And directed by a promising, emerging director Rebecca Frank.
Life and Limb continues Thursday-Saturday at 8pm. And with matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 2pm. Buy tickets online: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/136199