Circular Thinking: IBP Conspires with Charles Mee in Full Circle

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AJ Ware and Tek Wilson.
Photo by George Hixson

It can’t be easy to stay on the edge; there’s always a temptation to get too comfy. Plus, it’s got to be lonely out there; Infernal Bridegroom Productions has found some fine company in playwright Charles Mee. With Mee’s Full Circle, a Houston premiere, IBP proves, once again, they still own the edge in this town.

So what happens when an irreverent theater company meets up with an irreverent playwright? Do they cancel each other out? Or, instead create a kind of mutual respect that upholds each other’s dearly held non-conformist principles. Without a doubt, IBP and Mee are a match made in rogue theater heaven.

IBP’s rough hewn style looks at home in Mee’s jumbled universe where socialites, historical figures and events, politicos, and the rest, tumble about in his borrowed dramas. Full Circle is a retelling, in an expansive sort of way, of Bertolt Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle, which is itself, based on a Chinese Zaju play by Li Qianfu written in the Yuan Dynasty.

Anthony Barilla’s keen direction fearlessly follows the playwright’s clear directions to “pillage the plays as I have pillaged the structures and contents of the plays of Euripides and Brecht.” IBP tramples on the history of theatrical conventions for breakfast and usually with a mighty glee and sometimes even a song or two.

IBP’s usual suspects were in fine form. Paul Locklear was inspired and crazed as Heiner Muller, the East German dramatist and writer. Jeff Miller was notably slippery as Warren, as in the America tycoon Warren Buffet. Walt Zipprian’s stoic rendition of East German Communist, Erich Honecker, ramped up the political absurdity. Tamarie Cooper, as Honecker’s mistress, played a convincing uncaring mom. A.J. Ware’s Dulle Griet, a character Mee plucked from Dutch folklore, carries the drama, Honecker’s baby, and a piece of the Berlin wall, through Mee’s reckless world with a self-contained righteousness. You just want to volunteer to baby-sit she’s so darn upstanding. Tek Wilson’s portrayal of Pamela, based on socialite Pamela Harriman, was spot-on. Wilson joyfully traipsed through the levels of ridiculousness with ease, wonder, and non-stop charm.

Kirk Markley’s revolving set resembled a turntable and served to keep the action unstable and entirely unanchored in the familiar. It’s a volatile world alright, with shreds of history and hearsay strewn together in a make-shift scenario that exists nestled in the in-between land of Mee’s imagination.

Mee claims he like plays that are raw and unfinished. “My plays are broken, jagged, filled with sharp edges, filled with things that take sudden turns, careen into each other, smash up, veer off in sickening turns.” IBP excels in this arena, sharpening those edges till they glow with just the right about of cutting edge glimmer.

The best thing about Full Circle is that it makes you think. What’s worse (or better depending on your current thinking on thinking) is that it makes you want to think. During these mind numbing Nick and Jessica psychic trash times, it feels like a sign of hope to me. Mee’s freedom from the confines of intellectual property paranoia combined with his outright invitation to take his stuff and run with it exists in exact polarity to the current coma of manufactured information governing our spinned-to-death world.

Some plays, too many really, evaporate into grey matter dust before I leave the parking lot. Not this one, this one festers on. Support thinking—go see it.

Full Circle continues at the Axiom until January 14th. Call (713)522-8443 or visit http://www.infernalbridegroom.com/. Learn more about Charles Mee at http://www.charlesmee.com/.

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