By: Clint Sheffer
At: Bruised Orange Theater Company at Strawdog Theatre, 3829 N. Broadway
Phone: 773-588-0560; $15-$20
Runs through: July 30
BY SCOTT C. MORGAN
History of a Handgun has great potential—as a dramatic TV series stretched out over an entire season. But as a single two-and-a-half-hour play, there is just too much stuffed into Clint Sheffer's ambitious drama.
All of this is apparent ( and tiring ) while sitting through Bruised Orange Theater Company's world-premiere production at Strawdog Theatre. Perhaps the limited air conditioning aggravates one's patience, but Sheffer's History of a Handgun contains so much overheated histrionics that you squirm for a swift conclusion.
The setting is Mendicant, Ill., but it feels more like any small-town Southern backwater town, thanks to the thick dialects employed by the talented cast. There we meet an ambitious college student, Melanie Neece ( Tiffany Bedwell ) , who is speechwriter to her mayoral-candidate/failing-business-owner neighbor, Burton Wahl ( Thomas Mondala ) . Burton's bitter wife Elaine ( Sienna Harris ) drinks a bit too much and has an adulterous yen for Melanie's hot-headed dad and volunteer police officer, Dale ( Hank Hilbert ) .
Dale also has a drinking problem and has visions of murder victim Curly Jakes ( Tiffany Joy Ross ) , who may or may not have been killed by two fellows vying for Melanie's affections. One suitor is the mentally handicapped car painter Leon ( Max Stwart ) while the other is full-of-himself Eastern college professor/psychologist Kim Vanzandt ( Zack Brenner ) .
And let's not forget the lecherous newspaper editor/supermarket owner/disaster profiteer Tom Keegan ( Noe McDonald ) , who attempts to seduce Burton and Elaine's daughter, Payne ( Ann Sonneville ) , who has returned to town as an unstable Iraqi War veteran with a handgun.
Oh, yes. That namesake handgun is strangely not integral to the overall plot, which makes one wonder why it was chosen for the title. Still, the handgun does get put to the head of one character in an unconvincing burst of provocation, just as other characters strangely get gasoline doused upon them, struck by a car and force-fed a jumbo bottle of vodka.
The splattering of spit and other substances that collect on the bare scenic stage mirrors Sheffer's messy and oblique plotting that culminates in a climactic ( and confusing ) killer flood.
Even with so much forced violence and disparate plot points going on, the overall cast grabs hold of its roles and passionately make involving characters. They're not entirely capable of patching over the developmental holes of Sheffer's character motivations, but they at least they make the convoluted script fairly entertaining.
As we all know, a small town can be a microcosm of society at large, though it's hard to believe everything that Sheffer throws up in History of a Handgun. It's also hard to buy in the time allotment of a single play.