Spotlight: American Sublime

Kirsten Wedes

When Terry Hempleman's Todd is alone with the massive, unbound, imaginary American landscape painting The Storm in the Rockies, Mount Rosalie, he does something telling. He rises up to its majestic peaks, spots an eagle flying ahead of a raging storm, and, just for a second, reaches out to hold it. Then he pulls away, remembering that it's all an illusion. Subtle moments of this sort ebb and flow throughout this tremendously enjoyable and vital staging of a new play by Patty Lynch. It begins with a great entrance, as Hempleman and Amy McDonald's Constance simply walk into the art gallery, just feet from the audience and at floor level, and begin talking about the painting. They seem an ordinary middle-aged couple, until they begin sparring with a young guard played by Casey Grieg. Hempleman exhibits a golly-gee goofiness laced through with an aftertaste of bitter almonds, and McDonald plays Constance with a soft maternal side mingled with acidic flashes of malevolence. They do a number on the young guard, laying bare the inadequacies of his second-rate existence, and finally enlist him to join their ambiguous, hard-right vigilante cause. Grieg shines as a young man with a hollow core, latching onto any symbol or idea that will enable him to cast a shadow. A hall-of-mirrors effect emerges when it becomes obvious that Todd and Constance's ever-shifting story is actually a form of manipulative, twisted improv. Before long we have No Exit as staged by the John Birch Society. The show is astoundingly tight and sharp under Brian Goranson's direction, filled with double meanings and teased-out ambiguities. By the time Todd announces that it's "eye for an eye time," I was amazed at how frightening a psychic space these three actors were capable of creating, full of possibility, almost all of it bad. Coming in at a little more than an hour, the play hits a peak and leaves one puzzling over the pieces afterward. In all, American Sublime turns out to be one of the more satisfying local shows so far this year.

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