Matthew Reddin
In the name of love

Drive Me to Arson at Youngblood Theatre Co.

By - Jul 23rd, 2010 02:52 pm
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The premiere may have seemed dominated by water and wind as a mighty storm swept through Milwaukee Thursday night, but fire is the dominant element in Drive Me to Arson, the latest production from Youngblood Theatre.

Based on a poem by Rupert Brooke, Arson is the second play written for Youngblood by resident playwright Benjamin James Wilson, a founding member of the company.

The work questions what people will—and should—do in the name of love, and forces us to decide where the line is between being madly in love and just plain mad.

It begins as two separate stories of two separate men. First is Avery (David Rothrock), a poet who “awakens” beside his abusive yet loving girlfriend Regina (Tess Cinpinski) to find himself in what he believes to be a dream, though he cannot be sure. Then there’s Boscoe (Andrew Edwin Voss), a twitchy, disturbed man undergoing counseling with his psychiatrist (Rich Gillard).

The only constant is the Janitor (Tommy Stevens), an enigmatic character who simultaneously acts as guide and adversary, commanding the three lost souls of the play to “know your place.”

Unfortunately, none of them really learn what that place is.

Avery and Boscoe reveal the secrets and fears within the darkest corners of their minds. Avery’s central conflict is a need to be noticed by Regina, which manifests itself both in the obsessive poetry he writes about her and the arson of the play’s title, done in her name. Boscoe, on the other hand, deals with phantoms in his mind, recurring dreams of a haunted house, and impotence.

Image by Evan Crain, courtesy of Youngblood Theatre Co.

And yet, as time goes on, it becomes apparent that Avery and Boscoe are really two sides of the same coin, if not the same person altogether.

There are some striking parallels in their stories, including a shared compulsive devotion to their girlfriends, and by the time Boscoe subconsciously acts out the tale of how Avery burned down his first building—a farmhouse that figures largely in both of their histories—it’s clear there’s something more at work in this dreamscape than the stories of two madmen.

The overlap is emphasized by the intuitive scene-shifting employed in the play. The setting changes rapidly and without warning. The psychiatrist likens the transition style to strobe lights; every time the lights go out and come back on, something has changed or moved.

Initially, the overlap is nothing more than Avery overhearing the conversation between Boscoe and his psychiatrist, or Boscoe watching Avery talk to Regina, but before long the two are totally integrated, their characters even seamlessly switching places with each other mid-scene to radically change the context of the conversation.

Throughout, the cast remains fully committed to both the reality and surrealism of this strange world. They flip between awareness and obliviousness like a light switch, one moment totally convinced they are dreaming, and the next moment absolutely sure what they’re experiencing is real.

The play ends shortly after a startling plot twist that’s impossible to see coming, leaving us in the dark with plenty of questions still resonating.

Are Regina’s actions inspired by love or hate? Is Boscoe the same person as Avery, or is he just following in the footsteps of his arsonist double? Is Avery’s arson an act of love or an act of destruction?

Fortunately or unfortunately, Drive Me to Arson tells us the only answer, paradoxical as it may be, is “both.”

Drive Me to Arson will run through July 31 at the UWM Studio Theatre, 2400 E. Kenwood Blvd. Tickets are $12 and can be purchased at the UWM Box Office at 414-229-4308.

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