By PAM HARBAUGH
A fantastical, otherworldly spin helps define a horrific event in Orlando Shakespeare Theatre’s production of Steve Yockey’s new play “Pluto.”
This play comes from the much acclaimed National New Play Network’s program called Rolling World Premiere, which promotes new plays.
Although the setting is an average kitchen in what is probably an average American town, you can tell immediately that something big is amiss. While the audience enters, an actor sits in place, calmly. Behind her, a large limb from a flowering tree juts upside down through one side of the kitchen. Finally, when the play begins, Bailey Miller (Chris Metz), enters, laughs maniacally and then quickly exits.
Then there is the radio which keeps turning on by itself. A beautiful young girl who keeps making threatening appearances. And a dog, Cerebus (Heather Leonardi), who conjures up some spooky incantations causing the lights to flash and the refrigerator to shake.
In comes Elizabeth Miller, the mother, portrayed by the most wonderful Suzanne O’Donnell who digs so deeply into her role that she seems as believable and real as if she were a member of your own family. She engages Bailey in overly long talks about school and life and his father.
Finally, after some meandering speeches and the tedium of every day life and a disjointed encounter with the girl (gorgeous and scary Jillian Gizzi), things begin to happen.
We eventually realize that we are in a frozen moment lasting 80 minutes. Elizabeth is ignoring a terrible truth and ultimately be will forced to see the unspeakable in her own son It is a day that will rip away the lining of her life. It comes courtesy of the refrigerator — a portal for a mythical experience. Think Pluto, not the former planet, but the Roman god of the underworld, a.k.a “Death,” a deliciously smarmy John Connon dressed in a diving suit bell and a shiny silver suit.
While Yockey’s play takes a good while to actually kick into gear, direct Mark Routhier takes every advantage of each twist and crafts an unrelenting experience, powered by his wonderful cast and artistic design team.
But Yockey does get to the heart of a mother’s angst and to the monster lurking within her son. The son’s speech toward the end of the play is a haunting one, written with both uninhibited imagination and restraint. His play, especially the first third, needs more of that careful crafting.
Nevertheless, it addresses a taboo subject with intelligence and artistic intent. This will get you talking.
Production photos by Tony Firriolo
SIDE O’ GRITS: “Pluto” through Sunday at Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, Lowndes Shakespeare Center, 817 E. Rollins St., Orlando. $25. Call 407-447-1700 or visit www.orlandoshakes.org.