at Reflections Theatre
Father have pity upon me
I am weeping from hunger (of the spirit)
There is nothing here to satisfy me!
–Arapaho Ghost Dance Song
(found in the program notes of Hero Sandwich)
It’s no secret that American society has become so entrenched in its technology that we define our lives by our cars, gadgets, and appliances. If only Someone Good would come along and sweep all that nonsense, all those false idols out of our lives and make room for some true spirituality. We are starving for heroes. Help us Lone Ranger!
David Gilbert, in his play Hero Sandwich, has tried to show how we gobble up heroes and spit out their remains faster than anyone can say, “Good to the last drop.” Here the Solitary Trooper steps out of the television screen and into the world. The Trooper (Mark Miller, distinctly resembling the Lone Ranger) hears our plea, and with his trusted Sideman (Stewart Groves), he vows to set things right. He decides to hold three top advertising executives (B.F. Helman, Darryl Warren, and Leslie Prims) hostage until the world puts an end to false advertising, which he believes has ruined our society. Unfortunately for him, those ad execs know their business, and they soon begin to torture the Trooper. They confuse him with half-truths and lies, mock his superior attitude, and generally turn his mind into Jell-o. By the time the rescue squad arrives to free the hostages, Trooper no longer is certain of what must be done, either with the world or himself.
Gilbert has taken an interesting idea and brought it nowhere. The script meanders aimlessly from punch line to punch line, pausing every now and again for heavily symbolic, spiritual moments (punctuated in this production by the sudden intrusion of a blue light). Questions are raised and never answered. Is this solitary Trooper the real McCoy or just some crazed out-of-work actor? Tensions are set up that are never exploited. Jack Purcell, for example, the one adman dissatisfied at the beginning, seems to be the pivot point between Good and Evil (embodied by Trooper and the Advertising Agency). But once the three are taken captive, Purcell loses his humanity and joins the others in bringing Our Hero to his knees, a singularly simple task.
This ease is the major problem with the script. The Solitary Trooper never stands a chance. He is a pathetic buffoon from start to finish. No one takes him seriously, or even listens to him unless Sideman in an effort to protect his boss starts doing bodily harm to people. The Trooper knows of no greater punishment than forcing the executives to stand in the corner, or pantsing them. When he speaks of his values, he’s silly and shallow. Gilbert doesn’t even allow him the triumph of persuading a kid to stop smoking: she just laughs in his face. What kind of tension is that, when the main character doesn’t have a leg to stand on?
Instant Legends and director Eric Palles have done nothing to alleviate the textual problems. Palles seems unsure about what he wants to get from the script, aside from laughs. The inconsistent characters are played two-dimensionally, except when a spiritual moment is at hand. Then they suddenly turn into real people, with deep emotions. Ironically, the actual cartoon character, the Solitary Trooper, is one of the few to escape this schizophrenic conception.
Mark Miller is delightful as the Solitary Trooper. With all the makings of a real hero–the earnest lilt to his voice, the righteous swagger, and the true artlessness of all good heroes from Batman to Luke Skywalker–Miller makes us hope against hope that the Trooper will win.
Of the three advertising executives, Darryl Warren as Jack Purcell is the only one who rises above the limitations of the text. Purcell, with his easy sarcasm and humorous honesty, vitalizes the early scenes of the play. Tim Coan and Julie Alexander, as Detective Dudek and Gracie, the rescue team, have a few good moments, but the rest of the cast falls prey to the pitfalls of the script, wallowing in stereotypes and cheap laughs.
Tom Siegal is the set and lighting designer responsible for the K mart blue-light special.