I don’t review a lot of theatre here. As an actor, it’s a tricky position to be in, and I also empathize with actors who find themselves stuck with a really terrible script. It happens, and there is benefit in sucking it up and dealing with one. As an actor or a director looking to gain some stage time and experience.
But Saturday night, I was not an actor because I was an audience member. I paid 10.50 as did my friend to see a show. Post-show, I tried to escape the theatre as quickly as possible, but in retrospect, I should have demanded my money back.
Paul Barile has written the single most offensive play I have ever seen. I was offended first as someone from a rural area, secondly as a woman, and thirdly as an intelligent human being.
The play was entitled Cold Weather Comfort and was produced by NUFAN ensemble. On some level, I can’t fault a playwright for being inspired to write some dreck. That happens. I do fault a group of people for getting together, reading said script, and then thinking, “Hey! This one we gotta produce.” Sure, it’s their right to do so. But it’s also my right, especially as someone who paid for a ticket, to verbally glove-slap them across the face. What on earth were you thinking?
Let me just give you a run down of the plot. I suppose I should issue a “Spoiler alert” but the show has since closed and god willing no one will ever produce it again, I think we’re safe. And also, you’ve probably seen Cape Fear, Night of the Hunter, Little House on the Prairie and Goodfellas which are so heavy-handedly ripped off here. So we find ourselves near a nameless town on a “farm” in downstate Illinois. I’ll get to why “farm” is in quotes in a bit. We meet Sharon, wife of farmer Buddy Lincoln (A farmer named Lincoln from downstate Illinois. How precious.) who spends most of her time imbibing hot beverages, reading, and generally delivering some of the most trite, cliched Strong Country Woman views and opinions on various situations. Buddy’s kid sister, Alex…our prodigal daughter arrives home from some sort of shady business in Chicago to take a break. What follows is a generally inocuous, ill-informed play about coming home(?) and people who are the salt of the earth and whatever. It doesn’t matter. Because just as you think to yourself, AH, we’ve arrived at the final scene after some minor plot discrepancies (We’re getting ready for a special dinner tonight…after we go to bed and have it tomorrow…) and in just no time at all, I will be back in my car and I can forget this whole thing. But then the alluded-to shady dealings arrive from Chicago in the shape of “Earl”, the livin’ breathin’ gun-totin’ Italian Gangster stereotype just written to be played by Robert Mitchum, if Robert Mitchum would have played crappy terrible roles (thankfully he never did) and off we go into the depths of theatrical hell.
Firstly let me start out on the farm-life scenario. Having grown up on a farm in Paulding County, Ohio and living in farming communities for almost my entire life minus these past few years in Chicago, I think I can go ahead and make a few critiques on the farm depicted in Cold Weather Comfort. 1. No one actually works on this farm, except for Sharon who makes beverages constantly, and when she isn’t doing that, she’s getting ready for a seemingly never ending Sunday dinner. I’m just going to go ahead and stop here and say this, at our house, if you needed a beverage…you got it your damn self. Also, farmers don’t spend all day puttering around the barn and whittling animal shapes out of old wood or refurbishing guns they find at a flea market (and Paul…did you honestly think we’d be surprised to see that thing come back into the picture?). They work. Hard. Presumably the Lincoln farm is sustained by actual farming and yet Buddy seems to have the time to do oh just nothing at all. First of all, Buddy wouldn’t just be working the family farm. He would also be farming other people’s land that paid him to do so. He would be dealing with highly technological equipment including machinery steered not by his hand, but by satellite. Judging by the time frames covered here on the ol’ farm…we actually should have never seen Buddy… nor would Buddy frequent a local watering hold named, god help us, “Salty Rob’s.” Salty Robs is the hangout for the manufacturing sector and the RETIRED farmers. And it wouldn’t be called that either. Sharon, our upstanding farm wife, would first of all more than likely not be a housewife, because…I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention, but farming ain’t bringin’ in the dough like it used to. So Sharon would most-likely have a day job, or at the very least be shuttling her children around because the school won’t be within walking distance. Most-likely the county has consolidated school districts, so much of Sharon’s day is spent on the road as opposed to baking bread and making endless vats of iced tea.
Let’s move on to Alex, the rural girl who escaped “on the first bus” post-graduation to the big city. Alex, who grew up on this homestead, asks as thunder rumbles in the distance something along the lines of “Will this porch hold in a storm?” This is where Alex grew up. The porch has stood for decades. It’ll hold, Sister. And by the way, can we get you something refreshing to drink?
Might I add that if actually offered iced-tea from the farm, Alex would adamantly refuse knowing that she can’t handle the well-water anymore(which probably has a nice aftertaste ranging from copper to sulfur), and quickly brandish several bottles of water brought from the city. Otherwise, she might as well accept that that glass of iced tea is akin to a big ol’ dose of high-powered laxative.
And this is…oh…maybe the first five minutes? So as you can see, I could spend the rest of this blog just bitching about the rural inaccuracies, but I think I’ve made my point.
Let’s move on to the modern farm woman. She rarely looks knowingly into the sunset and spouts such items as “Sometimes, a good man has to hurt people.” Hmmm…Um. No he doesn’t. He just…doesn’t. Certainly not in the “beat the face off the biker dude who had the nerve to sit by my wife!” manner. Jesus Christ. “You’re a good man, Buddy!” Sharon says. No he’s not. He’s an affable bum who is no way shape or form an actual farmer. Wait…I can’t move on to Sharon yet, because first we have to introduce the greasy Italian gangster named Earl. Earl who, at gunpoint, forces Buddy to sign away the farm to his sister so that she can sell it to developers (Yeah, that’ll hold in court. No question.) Also, you do realize that any land deal isn’t going to be settled with a couple of signatures at a kitchen table, deal or no deal. It will takes months of negotiation, gun or no gun. And Buddy, before you stumbled into the kitchen knowing that some crazy tough is roughing up your family, mayhap you would have called the Sheriff?
Anyway, long story short, Earl threatens to rape Sharon. Sharon sacrifices herself to Earl because..you know…if he just rapes her, everything will go back to normal. I’m talking Sharon walks up and kisses the assailant. Mr. Barile, thank you so much for dragging myself and the rest of an unwilling audience into your sexual fantasies. You grossed me out and insulted me in like…a nanosecond. Well done. But wait! After the near-rape, Buddy grandly rejects Sharon for being sullied. She’s not an upstanding woman anymore! She was nearly raped! Her body will no longer be mine and mine alone! I mean, the misogyny and female ownership was just dripping out of this script. Jesus, Nufan, did you actually read this thing before producing it or did you just take Mr. Barile’s word for it? Irresponsible? To say the least.
But eventually in an absolutely not-surprising blackout due to the storm that has been threatening to hit for three days (and as Buddy states, is coming in fromt the East. Yes, Sharon corrects him that it is in fact coming in from the West, but 1. A farmer would know that, and 2. They never come in from the East. That’s not how the Jet Stream works.) somehow miraculously Earl gets dead. And whaddya know, Buddy didn’t have the balls to pull the trigger. But our Strong COuntry Woman Sharon sure did. Alas, we mustn’t dwell on our unclean woman’s heroism, because somehow the cops are arriving and Sharon has to make some coffee for our “guests.” And so ends the saga of the Lincoln family from Illinois.
I want my money back.