Broken Boulevard

A Somber Event Makes For Comedy in Aurora Theatre Company's New Production, 'Collapse'

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Another downside to the economic crisis of the last decade is art that struggles to maintain relevancy by way of ham-fisted dealings with the recession. Fortunately, "Collapse," Aurora Theatre Company's newest production, is not among these guilty blue-collar panderers (cough "The Town" cough "The Fighter"). The new comedy by Allison Moore fires on all cylinders and leaves other recession-literature in the dust with its fast-paced jokes and well-designed subtext.

"Collapse" also has the advantage of being set in the Midwest, the nation's moral center. It depicts Minnesotans Hannah and David trying to hold onto their jobs, marriage and sanity. Their struggles are distinct but intertwined: Hannah is coping with a miscarriage while David tries to hide a case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. In the middle of an already strained household enters Susan: Hannah's sister, a New Age-y casualty of California's economy. Susan's open-ended stay causes the already stressed couple to go off the deep end. When Hannah is driven to find a support group for her husband, a series of errors finds her mixed up with a seductive 12-Stepper named Ted, and she soon discovers that she needs help, too. From there, "Collapse" continues on a break-neck course of mistaken identity, drug plots and lots and lots of innuendos that attempts to exorcise the misery with comedy.

It's a small miracle that Moore turns such downer subject matter (infertility, infidelity and instability) into a powerful comedy. Rather than avoid these particularly nasty subjects Moore dives right into the chasm, mining the pain and suffering for every last drop of catharsis. The jokes play on Hannah and David's pain but also on flower child Susan's blind optimism and outrage.

This sort of comedy, one that mixes menace with dick jokes, requires special talent. Fortunately director Jessica Heidt has assembled a crack team for the job. Gabriel Marin as David has a special quality to him: He's less neurotic than resigned to the doom and gloom that surround his life. This air lends itself greatly to the deadpan jokes Marin delivers. Complementing this Eeyore sensibility is Amy Resnick's portrayal of Susan; her naive yet brash outbursts provoke the rest of the cast, especially Carrie Paff as Hannah, into fits. Paff has the traditionally lame job of playing it straight, in which she does a marvelous job. Yet she can also toss a few mean jabs at the men in the show.

The recipient of these barbs is often Aldo Billingslea's charming Ted. Ostensibly a foil for Paff's character, Billingslea steals the show in "Collapse." Its not just the various put-ons and come-ons that distinguish him, his overall performance is outstanding. His confidence as Ted is at first attractive but soon it becomes apparent that he is scared shitless, too. Special kudos for his practiced dialect, a folksy speech that betrays no simplicity, only a beguiling scent of experience.

But for all this comedy and drama, "Collapse" also has a keen and measured sense of history. The play is set in the aftermath of the economic meltdown of 2008. But there are few direct references to the event. Moore doesn't even use the word recession once. Instead the playwright invests her historical commentary into the source of David's PTSD, the collapse of a bridge over the Mississippi. Hannah and David trace all their woes back to this event, a subtle yet powerful metaphor for the financial market's collapse. It is an ingenious stroke by Moore, to give the cataclysmic although largely abstract event a lethal, terrifying presence.

Toss a few jabs at Derek at [email protected]

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