Nestled in a fantastic and beautiful venue, Mildred's Umbrella's passionate and heart-filled troupe of gifted performers present Steve Yockley's LARGE ANIMAL GAMES until July 14, 2012. The quasi-edgy play tells the story of six people whose lives are somewhat enmeshed and the lingerie shop that several of them frequent, all the while using lingerie and the hunting of large game animals as metaphors that ask the audience to look beyond the exterior and to the interior of themselves and others.
At the performance I attended, it was clear that the talent on stage surpassed the talent in the writing. Yockley's script for LARGE ANIMAL GAMES feels like it was crudely pieced together and the dialog feels clunky and uninspired. Steve Yockley has an impressive biography, including earning a degree in dramatic writing from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and a year long residency at Marin Theatre Company. Therefore, I have faith that he is capable of producing a better and more interesting script that realizes its own power and poignancy, unlike this clumsy and metaphorically muddled writing.
Even with the problematic writing, Matt Huff's directing shines through. With the exception of the awkwardly choreographed overture of sorts, Matt Huff maneuvers his players well, allowing them to express the stilted characters they portray as believably as possible, especially in the multitudinous fourth-wall breaking and awkward monologues that often lay bare the inane desires of the characters. How Matt Huff found and developed character motivations from the material is beyond me. Clearly he is a master of his craft, as he made a lifeless script enjoyable enough to keep everyone in attendance awake and at least chuckling from time to time. Some even guffawed with hearty laughs at moments.
Lyndsay Sweeney, as Rose, is the most enjoyable character in the show. Rose's impulsive actions keeps her relatable and enjoyable, which is a testament to Lyndsay Sweeney's acting chops. There is no doubt that she has to work to make Rose's altogether predictable blissful ignorance from an almost kismet relationship transition to the bitterness we all feel when we idealize something beyond its actual value convincing for the audience. Even with the simplistic material, Lyndsay Sweeney breathes a touching and memorable life into the character.
Ron Jones's Jimmy is fascinating, but less enigmatic than sinister a la Vincent Price, ultimately making Jimmy an unnerving proprietor of lingerie. This is not a negative though, as it works to make the thematic elements sprouted in his dialog a little more jarring and weighty than even Steve Yockey's writing allows them to be. Thus, Ron Jones as Jimmy becomes an existential narrator of sorts and less of a character in the plot.
The other actors in the troupe animate their characters well. Steve Yockley definitely missed out on making characters that could be as wild as the large game animals referenced in the show; however, the cast does the best they can to give each of them an untamed sense of post-2000 humanity. Crystal O'Brien presents Alicia as a shopping maniac, Bobby Hayworth's Stan has a mildly amusing secret that is not the shockingly deplorable act that it is made out to be, Autumn Clack's Nicole feels she is a predator so it is not surprising when she is revealed to be the prey, Kalid Puentes's Miguel is rather insightful in his willful simplicity, and Brittny Bush's Valerie employs assertive charms to invite the audience on her unwanted search for identity.
The set design is immaculately versatile-easily doubling as apartments and lingerie store. This illusion is only made possible with the superior lighting design that blends colors and spots to highlight and hide the aspects of the set that are telling to the differing locals. The costuming is great and evocative of location when needed (i.e. The African Safari) and the characters' identities. Each of the technical pieces work well together, heightening the experience and letting the audience lose themselves in the moment.
In spite of the less than stellar script, the creative forces behind Mildred's Umbrella showcase the potential and skill of the group. All who see it may not love this show, but it can be enjoyed. And it will whet the appetite for the audience, leaving them with the desire to see what Mildred's Umbrella can do with a truly edgy and vastly fascinating piece of experimental theatre. So, if you're looking for something fun and a little bit different, check out LARGE ANIMAL GAMES. While it won't blow you away, it does offer an entertaining deviation from the Houston theatergoer's standard norm.