Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Toronto, Mississippi -Mary Arrchie (Theatre review MICHAEL DICE)

Carlo Lorenzo Garcia is the man of the moment. That familiar tinted impression, with sly grin and cool hat, is over-saturating the intrawebs at a meteoric rate, sending news of this man’s good will into the stratosphere.

In all of his charity, written about at great length in TimeOut, HuffPo, and the facebook, the guy couldn’t muster up a comp for his old college buddy. Yeah, Garcia is all class. Let me tell you all a little something about Carlo Garcia. Anybody ever owe you money? Better yet, anybody ever call you in a bind at 4:52 in the morning, needs you to dig a hole at a construction site in Batavia, no questions, never speak of this again? Yeah, neither has Carlo. In fact I can’t think of a time the guy’s said ‘no’ to me.

Undeterred, I still managed to gain admittance to the Mary Arrchie Theatre Company’s closing night of “Toronto, Mississippi.” Carlo and the kids have seemingly taken over the reins of Arrchie upon a Rich Cotovsky sabbatical to DC, and their first offering post-“Cherrywood” is a quiet, subtle Canadian snowball of a play.

I saw my first Arrchie production, “The Petrified Forrest,” way back in 1995, and as they celebrate their 25th Anniversary, this splendid storefront gem of a theatre keeps dripping great work out of the rusty faucets of their homey Angel Island space.

Garcia and MATC Literary Manager Shannon Clausen seem to have a knack for digging up little jewels to showcase the acting chops of company member Daniel Behrendt. And what a f***ing surprise, Behrendt is once-again effortlessly brilliant. What a jerk.

Behrendt, Garcia, and I have a lot in common. All three of us are in mixed relationships, all three of us were at the Arrchie last night, and all three of us graduated from Illinois State University. In fact, Garcia and Behrendt have been tearing it up on stage right in front of my face since 2002 when I first saw them as Tom and Huck in “Big River.” Yeah… they can sing and dance, too… One day, DB, you’re gonna be not so great and believe you me, I’m gonna be there to see it! (UPDATE on waiting for Dan to fail: During intermission, Dan’s lovely girlfriend, talented actress Sadieh Rifai, informed me of his secret acting Achilles heel and you can bet I’ll be slipping a certain genre of script under Ms. Clausen’s pillow. Oh, hey Carlo… yeah… I know I’m in your bedroom… It’s all a dream. Go back to bed. )

I asked Shannon about any weaknesses in Carlo’s game and she replied “Who are you again?”

Back to the play. It’s Conners-meets-Huxtables is this family drama by Canadian playwright Joan MacLeod, as the Arrchie brings this hodge-podge of a family’s story to life with a set plucked straight from “Rosanne” and a sweater collection right out of Bill Cosby’s wardrobe.

The play follows Jhana, a mentally handicapped 18-year old girl, cared for by her mother Maddie, and her virgin-till-27-Canadian poet boarder Bill, played with striking honesty by Behrendt. Jhana longs for visits from her Elvis-impersonator father, while Bill kinda longs for her and her mother…

As with any Arrchie show, the gang brought the goods in abundance. Bill Anderson’s living-room set was lovely and sentimental in a 1987 sort of way. I love nothing more in theatre than a set that shows hints of familiar worlds beyond the front door and around the kitchen corner. And I must say, I’ve never seen the Arrchie look so clean. Surely another patented drunken orgy will fix that by year’s end.

The acting was tight as ever. In full disclosure, I must confess that Dan Behrendt is my favorite actor in Chicago, and I should know. We shared wife beaters, nudity, a moldy bathtub, and stage time with Lindsey Barlag over the summer. This performance was more of the usual brilliance from Dan. Share some of that talent with the rest of us, guy!

Eve Rydberg was simply fantastic as Jhana in one of the best performances I’ve seen this year. Rydberg was honest, creative, and disciplined in her performance, in no way Juliette Lewis-ing her portrayal of a special-needs character.

Garcia’s direction was filled with creative staging and surprise picture frames, both figuratively and literally.

All of this is irrelevant. “Toronto, Mississippi” has now closed and you will all have to wait till the spring for another Arrchie offering. (Geoff Button, anyone?)

Ever the do-gooder, Carlo is off to build a school in Mexico while the rest of us freeze and engage in Hallmark induced gift giving rituals. I knew you were on to something, Garcia Carlo.

So let’s all raise our eggnog and toast the Arrchie gang for 25 years of awesome theatre, and to Mr. Garcia, who has been on a goodwill tear this year. Safe travels and God Speed, old friend.

Toronto, Mississippi- A

Daniel Behrendt’s Performance, originally reviewed by Pitchfork- 7.8

Daniel Behrendt’s Performance, reviewed in Pitchfork’s Anniversary Re-Issue- 10.0

- Michael Dice


  1. Get outta my bedroom Dice... or at least shut up about it, gah. Also for the record, Carlo kicks pigeons and certain breeds of puppies. Just a little balance.

    Also, wtf guys, you totally missed this awesome play, snooze, lose.

    You can make it up to us by showing up for above-mentioned patented orgy on New Year's Eve.We have a lot of carpet to ruin.