By Jim Peacock – Special to The Daily News
SIDNEY – Bottom’s Dream Theater has assembled a pleasingly gifted cast to weave a tapestry of social commentary and philosophy from a sampling of issues that any diverse group of people grappling within any late-night café.
The rather disjointed beginning is a subtle device that effectively draws the viewer in to the tangle of overlapping lives that is this small community.
“The Worst Thing About Being Human” is both the title of the play and the existential question that each character in the cast must ponder – whether intentionally as an exercise in self-examination, or accidentally as one confronts the consequences of one’s own behaviors.
This original work, by Carolyn Johnson and T-Mo, explores the efforts of a small, loosely connected community of customers and employees of a small café in a small college town.
Those who remember frustrating college philosophy, creative writing classes and obscure humanities assignments will easily identify with students depicted as struggling to meet personal, family and social expectations.
The examination of various coping mechanisms drives the play from one dysfunctional effort to another as each character attempts to find satisfactory strategies to manage their lives.
Although not the largest part in the play, Grub (Gavin Brown) holds the early stages of the play together with very convincing wry wit and cynicism. Spouting Sartre quotes like punctuation, he challenges the viewer to think more deeply than mere empathy for the characters.
Far from mindless diversion, this work explores issues like grief, rejection, narcissism, drug abuse, self loathing, enabling, bullying, intolerance, mental illness and suicide. This ambitious effort is clearly not for the intellectually lazy.
For those willing to invest the mental effort, they can be rewarded with some pleasant insights into the thoughts and passions of people dealing with often uncomfortably familiar issues.
The underlying theme is the suicide of a young woman after a brief and troubled relationship with Harrison, a student and self described aspiring writer, played by Tim Addis. A wrenching emotional dialogue with Kathy (Jess Hayes) shortly after her tragic death is the high point of Addis’ performance.
Equally poignant is the voice of Stephanie Joki, as Spring, who points out Harrison’s insensitivity and cruelty to others in the things he says and the way he behaves.
The director uses some clever conventions of lighting and cast positioning to make the single stage appear to be multiple views of the same café at multiple times of the day.
Also worthy of note were the efforts of Ric Davenport in the role of the rumpled college professor and café owner, Mr. Plato. Jane Lalonde lends stability to the group of three nurses, also played by Sue Mons and Jeremiah Souza, who display various reactions to the suicide.
Among my favorite characters was Freya (Janice Vandenberg), a “big girl,” comfortable with her size and confident in herself. She becomes the conscience of this eclectic community.
Although a bit halting and unsure at first, Nate LaLone (Sammy) left the stage after a powerfully angry fight scene the equal of many portrayed by much more seasoned actors.
The lighting and acoustics in this small theater are mercifully forgiving, making it easy for the audience to hear and appreciate the lines.
Discriminating viewers will not be disappointed with the time spent experiencing this play. They should not be surprised if they find themselves laughing a little and thinking a lot during and after this performance.
Johnson and T-Mo are co-directors and Johnathan Heath serves as sound and light technician.