Good theater taps into enduring questions about the nature of the human experience. Unfortunately, the world premiere of Saint Christopher Is Not a Saint Anymore, by the new theater company New Works Inc., sparks the wrong kind of questions: "What is going on here?" And "why are a bunch of strangers hanging out in the alleyway behind a closed restaurant?"
I saw the show on Wednesday's pay-what-you-can preview (technically the final full dress rehearsal), so the cast and crew can be granted some leeway in their execution. But the major problem with Saint Christopher is the script.
Hunt Scarritt's play, set somewhere in Louisiana's Gulf Coast, centers on a restaurant that has been closed after a robbery and vandalism. The closed doors don't stop a few of its regulars from patronizing it anyway. They just wander into the back alley near the trash cans and hope some food and drink appear. In the meantime, they have awkwardly over-personal conversations with people they don't know.
Certainly, fictional characters are allowed to interact in ways we normally wouldn't, especially in experimental theater, a style that Saint Christopher seems to want to be. (Maybe, for instance, as one character does here, it would be good to ask a relative stranger out of the blue, "Are you lonely?") But the development among these characters feels particularly forced.
That's despite director Stephen Currens' achievement in creating a pleasing fluidity of movement and rhythm among the ensemble's blocking and tempo.
If I had to guess Scarritt's intent, I imagine he chose to set the play at the corner of society's moral and emotional bankruptcy and the wild, mystical edges of nature to comment on humanity's teetering existence between the two extremes. A group of disjointed, pain-stricken characters huddle near the garbage hoping for some kind of sustenance while the storms and creatures of the gulf loom — a kind of grim magical realism with foreshadowing tones of an internal or societal apocalypse, or both.
The show tilts toward the otherworldly with the inclusion of some mystical language woven deeply into the script about hearing birds and sensing the almost-aliveness of the Gulf Coast's eerie weather. Add to that a couple of crazy characters in the form of a paranoid soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder (disappointingly played in a one-note performance by Lorne Dechtenberg) and a Dumpster-diving "angel" (adequately played by Bethany Finley). But the language and characters in this world never jell in a satisfying or even comprehensible way.
On their own, they are not wholly uninteresting characters. Jennifer Roth Parr delivers an intriguing performance as a surprisingly wise but carefree drunk who can talk to trees and write excellent obituaries.
Leah-Marie McDivitt palpably delves into some of the mother-love conflict she feels about her recently deceased mom, whom, by the way, she or her brother might have killed. Her sporadic attraction to meat-grinding line cook Percy (played by Burley Thomas with a dark magnetism of someone with a secret) fills the stage with potent and disturbing passion based on the raw thrill they each get from the carnality of eating meat.
But their bizarre courtship briefly puffs up and blows away like a gulf storm, even though Percy makes an overture of continuing their relationship (if you can call flirting with a cook for five minutes a relationship).
Together, it is unclear what they have in common or, more important, what conflicts among them matter enough to drive the play toward some kind of meaningful resolution. Scarritt does propose that closure, but it feels unconnected to most of the action that transpired during the play's previous two hours.
Despite Currens' able direction, the disjointed randomness of the characters themselves and the play's lack of graspable plot points sabotages the show's attempts at thematic cohesion and just feels like a play about some people you can't be enticed to care about, hanging out in an alley for two hours.
'Saint Christopher Is Not a Saint Anymore'
What: World premiere production of Hunt Scarritt's play.
When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 3-5, 10-12, 17-19; 2 p.m. Oct. 6, 13, 20.
Where: Downtown Arts Center, 141 E. Main St.
Tickets: $15-$20. Available at Downtown Arts Center box office, (859) 225-0370 or Lexarts.tix.com.
Candace Chaney is a Lexington-based writer.