Theatre Scene: ‘Wonder’ pummels with possibilities but few answers

Posted: February 13th, 2011 | Arts & Entertainment, Theater Scenes | No Comments

(l to r) Ruff Yeager and Tom Hall; image by Tim Schubert (Courtesy Karin Filijan)

“Wonder Wounded Heroes”
Through Feb 19
ion theatre company
at the Blkbox in Hillcrest
(619) 600-5020
Thursdays & Fridays 8 p.m.
Saturdays 4 and 8 p.m.

By Cuauhtémoc Kish | Theatre critic

ion theatre company presented the world premiere of Gordon MacDonald Wachsman’s “Wonder Wounded Heroes,” their 35th production of bold and often daring theatre, on Saturday, Jan. 29. This 90-minute, intermission-less play—a first for the playwright—marks one of ion’s most audacious offerings to date.

Wachsman, known principally as a stage and screen actor, sets up his drama with the reunion of three male siblings in a remote Yukon outpost. This coming together—a mental wreckage of sorts—is fraught with images from their unsavory past.

The set, designed by Claudio Raygoza and Matt Scott, underscores the siblings’ bizarre dysfunctional world where they collide with one another nonstop. This inventive, surrealistic stage design helps set the tone and serve up the emotional and physical rampage that erupts in scenes that are much like bouts in a tag-team, fighting event.

The three siblings: Harry (Tom Hall), Otto (Matt Scott) and Gus (Ruff Yeager) were force fed Shakespeare, alcohol and strict military discipline by their father, after he went AWOL during the Vietnam War. It’s immediately clear that none of the three stand much a chance of recovering from their childhood experiences. All three actors do well enough, acting out their assigned unique and separate dysfunctions as best they can, considering the limitations of the writing.

In the opening sequence, just to give you a taste of “Wonder Wounded Heroes,” Harry knocks on the door of the secluded cabin and is immediately rebuffed by Otto, initially negating any kin relationship. Harry remains persistent as he eventually enters into the squalid quarters shared by Gus, who is blind, but paints canvasses on a daily basis. Harry presses forward with his investigation to find out what happened to their father, assumed to be dead.

With Harry’s alcohol-fueled visit to the past, we learn, in sputtering starts and stops, that their father demanded that they learn and recite a page of Hamlet each and every day as part of their daily family ritual. As a result, the audience is entertained with dialogue from Shakespeare, along with Hart Crane’s poetry and even thoughts of Sophocles’ Oedipus. This is some pretty heady stuff.

And as brothers are wont to do, they tangle, both physically and verbally, in a three-way tug of war, with none of them coming out as victor.

The short grainy films projected on the back wall are not easily heard, nor easily understood, but they do lend some insight into the brothers’ neglected upbringing. The cabin seems to be infected with the past, a past that won’t allow escape for any of them. But it’s your guess as to what really happened in the past and it’s your guess if survival is even possible.

Although well directed by Glenn Paris, this implausible Shepardesque family journey pummels you with possibilities and allows for few, if any, answers. The dialog and action is literally in your face. But if you like that kind of raging theatre—think back to the days of an active Sledgehammer Theatre—this one’s for you.

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