Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Wilder! Wilder! Wilder!

For your consideration, the FSU/Asolo Conservatory offers five instructive tales by Thornton Wilder, the American playwright made famous by ten million high school productions of "Our Town."

The actors are all student-actors. In alphabetical order: Ghafir Akbar, John Cabrera, Kirstin Franklin, Sarah Gavitt, Hannah Goalstone, Alexandra Guyker, Peter Mendez, Nissa Perrott, Kevin Stanfar and Bethany Weise. Together with director Matthew Arbour, they did an excellent job with Wilder's dead-pan, low-key, dryly hilarious material.

As to the material itself ...

Infancy depicts talking babies who complain about life and their position in the scheme of things. Childhood shows a brood of morbid kids who temporarily escape from their families in a round-trip bus trip in their brains. The Wreck on the 525 is a bizarre allegory about a man on the outside of society (and his own family) looking in. The Happy Journey to Trenton and Camden is a tale of a strong woman who comforts her eldest daughter after a miscarriage without making a big deal out of it. The Rivers Under the Earth is a parable of multilayered time.

I loved it, though a third of the audience must have been taking dumbass pills. Overheard at intermission:

—Babies don't talk.
—I don't get it. What's with the bus?
—Why was he out there looking at 'em? It's his house. He can see them any time he wants.

OK, I'll grant you, Wilder's oddly warm brand of all-American surrealism isn't exciting as, say, a helicopter on stage or a singing circus tycoon. I'm as big a fan of fire, explosions and death as anybody. When Transporter 2 opens, I'm there.

But it's good to have a brain with different input settings. Wilder speaks in a quiet voice. His voice is worth listening to. A scattering of American writers from Ann Beattie to Nancy Oliver to the four guys in the Firesign Theatre comedy troupe clearly did.

'Wilder! Wilder! Wilder!'
Short version: Melancholy babies.

Through Nov. 23
FSU/Asolo Conservatory production
Cook Theatre, FSU Center for the Arts
5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota