'THANATOS' FINDS A WINDY PLACE TO PLAY THIS SUMMER CHICAGO THEATER IS DRAWN TO PLAYWRIGHT'S 'ABUSE OF STYLE.'
June 14, 1998 By ROBERT TRUSSELL Publication: The Kansas City Star
An attitudinal Chicago theater company whose artistic director thinks audience abuse is a desirable goal will produce Kansas City playwright Ron Simonian's ``Thanatos. '' Simonian's work might best be categorized as abrasive, surrealistic farce, and ``Thanatos'' is so far the most widely produced of his plays (it was staged twice in Kansas City and once in New York). The play is really a meditation on our attitudes; it begins as a naturalistic comedy and ends in a nightmarish blaze of gunfire - and that was enough to excite Larry Bryant, the artistic director of the National Pastime Theater. In a telephone interview, Bryant explained that a couple of theater troupes that intended to rent Pastime's performance space over the summer had to cancel their plans. That left Pastime in the position of looking for a script that could be staged rather quickly. ``The style of plays we normally do are not very realistic,'' Bryant said as he took a break from installing new theater seats.``We do plays we call hyper-real. What I liked about this play is that it had the high stakes and the intensity and the desperation, which is the main key to what we do, within it, but the structure of it was more naturalistic. So I thought it would be a challenge. We gave it a reading one night and we were on the floor laughing. ``His abuse of style is really interesting. He does something that appears natural but then turns out to be the exact opposite.It's a great audience-abuse vehicle, which is really what we like to do. '' ``Thanatos'' is scheduled to open today and run through late July. The 90-seat Pastime Theater is in an old speakeasy in the Old Town district. Before finding a permanent home five years ago, the non-Equity company was a nomadic guerrilla outfit. The company likes to do shows that jolt the audience. The diverse subject matter includes the life of Black Panther Huey Newton and the works of Kafka. In the fall Pastime will stage a new adaptation of Dostoevsky's ``The Possessed. '' ``Our motto is: like nothing you've ever seen,'' Bryant said.``We treat 'em like the first hit of heroin is free and after that you're not gonna be happy going anywhere else. Theater really bores me to death, so that's why we have this approach. '' ``Thanatos,'' Bryant said, fits the theater's mission perfectly. ``It's an uphill battle to keep today's modern audience interested,'' he said. ``That's why those little elements of aggressive spectacle or surprise need to be interjected at every moment possible. '' Simonian said he planned to fly to Chicago this week to see the show. He said the production took him completely by surprise. ``It's a bizarre thing,'' he said. ``I know I gave the script to a friend of the director about two years ago and hadn't heard anything since then, and then I got a call saying they wanted to produce this play and could they. '' Earlier this month Simonian attended a reading in Santa Monica, Calif., of his play ``At the Feet of Doves,'' about two hitmen burying a corpse. Simonian spent several days in Los Angeles, during which time he was approached to write a sitcom. A filmmaker alsoasked for a private reading of ``Zone 3,'' which was given a lively production recently at the Unicorn Theatre. The production of ``Thanatos'' marks the first time Simonian's work has been performed in Chicago. Odds and ends J. Kent Barnhart, executive director of Quality Hill Playhouse, continues performances of his one-man show, ``An Evening With J. Kent Barnhart,'' at 3 p.m. today. The show resumes at 8 p.m. Friday and continues through June 21 at the playhouse, 303 W. 10th St. The program includes songs by Noel Coward and Cole Porter, among others, as well as instrumental music by Scott Joplin and George Gershwin.Tickets cost $17. Call 235-2700. The Coterie Theatre opens ``Pippi Longstocking'' at 11 a.m. Tuesday. The show, based on Astrid Lindren's children's books, tells the amusing tale of young Pippi, who throws a Swedish village into chaos while escaping the Child Welfare Board. The show is a co-production with the University of Kansas Theatre for Young People.Jeff Church directs; Molly Jessup is the musical director. The cast includes Hayley Podschum, Rick Holton and Missy Koonce. ``Pippi'' runs through July 26. Call 474-6552. The Wyandotte Players dodged a bullet. Two days before their production of ``Guys and Dolls'' opened at Kansas City Kansas Community College, the actor playing Sky Masterson dropped out because of an illness in the family. Director Leayn Losh found a last-minute replacement in Kris Miller of Leavenworth, who evidently is one heck of a quick study. Miller had never played the role before but got the songs and dialogue down in two days of relentless rehearsing. The final performance is at 2:30 p.m. today. Call 621-2047. The Kansas City Star Date: June 14, 1998 Page: K8 Copyright 1998 The Kansas City Star Co.