Tuesday, July 23, 2019

A Bit Too Steep: 'Pomona' Takes Me Somewhere I Don't Quite Get -- Chicago Theater Review

Chicago Theater Review

by Alistair McDowell
directed by Robin Witt
Steep Theatre, Chicago
Thru August 24

Before I opted to see Pomona, all I knew was that it was being presented by Steep Theatre, which has regularly done stellar, often adventurous work. 

The play's director, Robin Witt, also helmed two of the shows I liked best by the troupe: Linda and Harper Regan.

Prior to attending Saturday night's performance, I had the benefit of reading Chris Jones' 4-star (out of 4) review in the Chicago Tribune.

And between Jones' review, program notes by the playwright, Alistair McDowell, and my own perceptions upon seeing the show, points of reference I can cite are pretty impeccable.

David Foster Wallace's acclaimed novel, Infinite Jest. Martin McDonagh's masterful play, The Pillowman. The great science fiction noir film, Dark City. Blade Runner. Pulp Fiction. The Sound and Fury

Photo credit on all: Gregg Gilman
Especially with the undeniable truth that theater is subjective, our reactions potentially immensely different, all of the above should serve as gist for you to (possibly) see Pomona.

Including a fine cast, it has a lot going for it.

Even if, try as I might, I didn't understand it.

Nor, with great deference to Steep, Witt, McDowell and the eminently more esteemed arbiter, Jones, much like it.

It's hard for me even to explain the show, and perhaps it's best that I leave most details for viewers to discover.

Pomona has nothing to do with the city in California with that name, but rather a region in England within the city of Manchester.

There, the non-linear story begins with Zeppo (Steep artistic director, Peter Moore, excellent as always), a local titan who is driving a ring road accompanied by Ollie (Amber Sallis) who seeks his help finding her missing sister.

For reasons still unclear to me, Zeppo regales Ollie with the plot of Raiders of the Lost Ark and his predilection for chicken nuggets.

Many of the other characters are seemingly named for early screen comics--Charlie (as in Chaplin, played by Brandon Rivera), Moe (Nate Faust), Keaton (the young Phoebe Moore), and with the allusions less clear, Fay (Ashlyn Lozano) and Gale (Jamila Tyler). 

Ostensibly to prove that I was awake, focused and taking notes, I can tell you that the narrative involves a brothel of sorts, and that one of the male characters fantasizes about covering the world in his semen.

There is also seemingly a mystery about what happened to Ollie's sister, but while I certainly wouldn't spell out how this was resolved, the truth is that I don't really know.

Color me perplexed.

Which isn't to be blatantly dismissive.

McDowell is clearly an ambitious writer who traipses in complex, science fiction non-linearity akin to Alex Proyas (who wrote and directed Dark City), Christopher Nolan and Alex Garland (Ex-Machina, Annihilation).

The films by the aforementioned trio and others of their ilk (such as Quentin Tarantino) are often audacious, challenging and ultimately brilliant to some--including me in part--and far too confounding to others.

i.e. Also me, in several cases.

So at the very least, I would say, beware.

Pomona is not easy to follow or discern, although it's more watchable than that might suggest due to strong performances throughout.

My grade above and general sense of not being enthralled genuinely reflects my overall experience in viewing it, and what I derived.

But I wouldn't deem to call it bad, disappointing, etc.

I just didn't get it.

Stuck on the ring road, perhaps.

Or caught in a matrix (referencing a movie I did love).

So although I wasn't wowed by Pomona, it's not hard to imagine some might find it astonishing.

I hope you do.

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