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October 19th, 2011 MARIANNA HANE WILES | Performance
 

Animals and Plants (Coho Productions)

Welcome to the Hotel Carolina.

perfbox.animals&plants2_3750CHRIS MURRAY AND JOE BOLENBAUGH

From the moment viewers enter the theater, stepping over empty pizza boxes and Coors Light cans on the way to their seats, they know this show will take them out of their comfort zones. The set is the seediest of hotel rooms, complete with brown scuzzy carpet, bent metal window blinds and scuffed furniture. The wall behind the bed is populated with taxidermied creatures, including a raccoon mid-pounce. This cage is inhabited by two other sad-sack critters: a pair of drug runners snowed into this hotel in Boone, N.C., while awaiting a delivery from the “Burning Man.” Even though no drugs are consumed on stage, the resulting 90 minutes feel very much like a surreal trip. 

As the lights come up, Burris (Chris Murray) paces the room like a caged animal, filling the space with his rapid speech and working every muscle in his body. (Nunchucks and a Shake Weight are central to his workout routine). In Murray’s excellent portrayal, Burris’ pomaded, dirty-mouthed alpha male sucks up all the air in the room. When he left the stage, I missed his frenetic energy. 

Burris’ partner, Walt Dantly (Joe Bolenbaugh), spends much of the show planted on the mussed double bed, sticking things down his pants, taking vocabulary lessons from his partner and futilely musing about changing his name and his life. 

After Burris takes off to bring back a girl for Dantly, things begin to unravel. Dantly wakes to find Cassandra, a college dropout who works at the local head shop, perched on a chair. Birdlike Cassandra (Nikki Weaver) flits about the stage with youthful enthusiasm that shakes even Dantly out of his reverie. One of the sweetest moments in the show is a bed-jumping duet of “There’s Always Tomorrow.” Like her Greek namesake, Cassandra has prophetic powers that tell her when death is coming, and she’s sure something bad is on the way. It is—a bloody ending that’s about as believable as Cassandra walking around in a blizzard in Birkenstocks.

I am not the target audience for this play, and I’m not sure who is. Big Lebowski lovers, sure. Anyone amused by grown men stripping off their clothes to Right Guard their balls. Ultimately, the problems with this show are not in the production but in the writing: This is one of playwright Adam Rapp’s earliest works, and it shows. The script flits from clever and snappy exchanges to semi-serious musings, and the plot requires vast leaps of faith. I think Rapp’s message, if there is one, is that humans aren’t so different from animals and plants—especially when our faculties for higher thinking are tuned to this kind of absurdity.


SEE IT: The CoHo Theater, 2257 NW Raleigh St., 205-0715, cohoproductions.org. 8 pm Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 pm Sundays. Closes Nov. 5. $20-$25.

 
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