Southern Cross, Cenacle Theatre Company, at the Pilsen Theatre. Afram Bill Williams’s play, set in the early 70s, is so immersed in the Zap Comix aesthetic that you can practically see the voice balloons. Its characters are a mentally fragile housewife, a put-upon black houseboy, an airheaded flower child, two bigoted Mississippi rednecks on opposite sides of the law, and a hippie hero (with a service record) who saves the day by drugging a fugitive killer with LSD-laced beer–an undeniably original tactic even if it does produce a hallucinating hoodlum waving a loaded gun.
If Williams were invoking these cliches in order to ridicule the stereotypes or explore the humanity behind them, they might be acceptable. But director Rachel Chaves seems to expect us to take this stuff seriously–even the B-movie “psychedelic” light and sound effects–and accordingly has instructed her actors to play it without a trace of irony or satirical insight.
The result is a sad departure from Cenacle Theatre’s usually intelligent work. Erich Muhammad gives the thankless role of the servant willing to die for his white benefactress more dignity than it deserves, Richard Sullivan does a smart Christopher Walken impression as the crazed convict, and Paul J. Baio manages to redeem the Sunshine Superman. But ultimately we’re left with a ham-handed relic of an age whose self-conscious precocity lost its charm long ago.
–Mary Shen Barnidge