Brian Jacobson

Savage in Limbo

By - Jul 14th, 2009 08:06 pm


Savage in Limbo by John Patrick Shanley
Produced: Youngblood Theatre
Directed: David Rothrock
Shows: 7/13 – 7/29 Mondays and Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Run-time: around 70 min. (no intermission)



You can’t ask for a better set to host John Patrick Shanley’s smothering and desperate think piece than the small side bar of the basement Landmark Lanes in Milwaukee. It’s a tale set in a New York City bar on a lonely night when five 32-year-old New Yorkers collide and process the self-dug holes that are their lives.

The ingenious use of this space (which faintly smells of stale liquor) by a theatre company finding their feet between spring and fall semesters brings scads of uncomfortable intimacy to the staging. The author, in an opening note to his 1986 script, insists that Savage is a “concert play.” In this theater of the near-round, Shanley believes that “the audience…is included in the world which the characters inhabit. And the play itself is more a series of related and emotional events than a conventional story.”

This is the serious young actor’s godsend; it is a curse as well. Each character is a ‘type’ and needs an actor who can breathe authenticity into the role: April (Ashley Sevedge) is a sleepy boozer propped up and maintained by the staid bartender Murk (Tommy Stevens). Denise Savage (Abbey Starr White) is a woman looking for action to make her forget an invalid live-in mother. Linda (Callie Ebert), an “overripe Italian” woman distraught at losing her boyfriend Tony, wanders in crying and befriends old grammar schoolmate Denise. Eventually the leather-pants clad Tony Aronica (Andrew Edwin Voss) enters, oozing manliness but lost in a world of small thoughts.

It’s a daunting task for a set of actors and director (David Rothrock) with a median age of 23 to find depth in characters so tightly written and supposedly beat down by three decades of hard living. Youngblood’s players do their best to pound at the glass walls built for them. At times, the tough New York accents are an admirable case of mimicry. At other moments, the flatness that comes from raised voices with the New Yorker accents help to bring a focus on the headier concepts at hand. Two of the women are tough, while the men are softies. Sex is something saddled with great responsibility. Through a series of proposals, partnerships and revelations, the 90-minute play is driven to an inevitable hard conclusion.

The actors are so close; you can’t help but believe them as real. Nuances of emotion are practically in your lap. But you wonder if it is enough. Is it enough to accurately recite the lines as written by the author, or are you allowed to escape those bonds? With some further workshopping to mine the deeper emotional hysteria underlying this story and maybe a bigger bar than the current 30-person arrangement (perhaps Turner Hall’s upstairs sidebar?), this could be a real find for the Milwaukee theatre scene.

It’s obvious that these new players are serious about learning the craft and not willing to settle for staples like My Fair Lady and Our Town. They want Mamet, O’Neill, Ionesco, Shepherd, and Stoppard. The company has the potential depth to be another Theater X, and with time and stellar mentoring, Youngblood could be a future Steppenwolf.

Savage in Limbo continues Mondays and Wednesdays at 7 p.m. in the Landmark Lanes through the end of July. Buying tickets through the UWM Peck School of the Arts Box Office is highly encouraged, as sellouts will be common in this 30-seat space. Call 414.229.4308 or visit for more information.

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