On Saturday night I drove over to Beech Grove to see the Spotlight Players’ presentation of Bruce Graham’s apocalyptic comedy, “Early One Evening at the Rainbow Bar & Grille.” It was directed by John Carver and produced by Debby Lovell.
I enjoyed the evening very much. I have questions about one or two of the artistic choices, but nonetheless, this show provides a satisfying mix of humor, romance, and spiritual food for thought.
This play is about a group of individuals and their reactions to the ending of the world as they know it.
We, the audience, never learn exactly how the world is ending. It just is.
Matt Feldman plays Shep, a writer-geek who wandered into town by accident one day and accepted a job as a bartender at the Rainbow. He has just sold a book, but he won’t be able to cash his sizable check because the world is ending.
Will Pullins plays Roy, a doofus of a mechanic. Both his lines and his interpretation of them are funny.
When the play opens, Shep walks in on an oil-stained Roy swiping several beers from the bar’s refrigerator, but it’s no big deal because everyone’s going to die soon anyway.
Sue Sorley plays Shirley, the sexually confident barmaid. She has a list of things she wants to do before she dies. One of them is to finally make love with young Shep, who is sexy but in an oblivious way, and not at all sexually confident.
I laughed out loud when Shirley comes back from Walmart. She is dressed as Doris Day even though it makes her feel like an idiot because she thinks that is what will turn Shep on. The things we women do sometimes just to be able to cross items off our to-do lists!
David Buttram plays Willy. I don’t remember what Willy did for a living before the world started to end, but now he has his shotgun out and he is settling old scores with everyone who ever wronged him. He is one scary guy.
A traveling aluminum siding salesman named Bullard wanders into the bar to use the payphone and maybe get in a quickie if he can find a willing woman. He is not convinced that everyone is going to die, but he wants to reconnect with some of his former customers in this area, people to whom he sold bomb shelters back in the day, just in case. Neal Eggeson plays this randy stranger, downing shots within beers with impressive enthusiasm and a great, sleazy laugh.
After these people have all left again and Shep is alone in the bar, he puts a pistol in his mouth and pulls the trigger.
However, the gun is apparently empty, so life is going to go on for him at least a little while longer.
A little later, the bar’s outside sign falls down on the local gym teacher’s – excuse me – health and physical education teacher’s car, forcing her to come inside and use the payphone, too. Her name is Virginia (Sarah Hoback.) She was on her way to Colorado to be with her family, but she learns that it is too late: they are already dead.
Then, as Shep and Virginia begin to fall in love in spite of it being the end of the world, another man, “Joe” (Tom Meador) comes in to use the payphone. He is an especially intriguing character. He doesn’t have to put any money in to make the phone work. In fact, the phone gives him money when he hangs up.
“Joe” has an interesting proposition for Shep and Virginia.
The bar-and-grille set has a wealth of wonderful details. It was designed by director John Carver, constructed by Roger Dutcher, and decorated by Russ Hash, John Carver, and all of the cast and crew.
From the brick front and the linoleum floor, to the stale packets of chips behind the bar, to the real jukebox, to the bright aqua fridge, to the dart board and the kitschy beer signs, it is obvious that a lot of care was taken to make the show look and feel a certain way.
At first I thought the set was supposed to convey the idea that although the bar has been around a while, the play takes place in 2007. On the fridge is a 2007 calendar. CDs spin on the juke box rather than 45s.
Also, Virginia wears an exercise outfit that leaves her midriff bare. Her belly button is pierced with two sparkling gemstones. All of this says “2007” to me.
However, not one of the six characters has a cell phone, and more than one person speaks as if Johnny Carson is still alive and hosting his TV show with Ed McMahon.
Maybe all of these artistic choices together are meant to convey the idea that this story could take place at any time, and that it has taken place before at various points in the history of the world. After all, even though the play has a lot of laughs, it is also about free will and the significance of our own choices. Hmm. (I am still thinking about this.)
The other thing that didn’t sit quite right with me was Shep’s suicide attempt and people’s reactions to hearing about it later. Yes, the gun was empty, but Shep didn’t know that when he pulled the trigger, and he didn’t play it as a comic action, so I was surprised that he set the gun down afterwards so casually and quickly.
I was also surprised later when he confessed to Virginia and “Joe” that he had attempted suicide earlier that day. For all they reacted he could have just said, “I changed my shirt.”
However, Shep, Virginia, and “Joe” are all very strong and believable the rest of the time.
Feldman gives Shep, as I mentioned before, a cerebral and naïve sexiness that made me want the chance to play Eve to his Adam, too.
Hoback gives Virginia an appealing mix of feminist strength and vulnerability. If I were Adam, I would want her by my side.
Meador portrays God as genial, compassionate, and hilariously practical. I completely believed that God is always going to keep trying to communicate with His human creations while still letting them (us) make our own choices most of the time, even when they destroy us.
The lighting and sound designs, both by Molly Bellner and John Carver, are lovely, too. I want to say that the opening instrumental music is Scotch-Irish, but I couldn’t really identify it, so I just enjoyed it. The glass breaking offstage sounded authentic, and the red explosion lights were just right. The jazzy-country-rock version of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” that was playing as we all left the theatre perfectly matched my feelings of hope and pleasure after seeing this show.
“Early One Evening at the Rainbow Bar & Grille” continues weekends through February 24 at the Spotlight Players’ current venue: the basement of the First Christian Church at 75 North 10th Avenue in Beech Grove. For more information or to make reservations, please call 767-2774.
Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com