THEATRE REVIEW by Alec Clayton for OLY ARTS
In showbiz they say, “the show must go on,” and not even a worldwide pandemic can stop Pug Bujeaud and Theater Artists Olympia (TAO) from creating theatre. Bujeaud, a highly respected actor and director who has adapted many works for the stage, tackled her first ever completely original script. She wrote it for and about the quarantine during the coronavirus pandemic, and did it while being sick with the virus herself — casting and rehearsing it online, with each actor working from the privacy of home.
Bujeaud’s play, “The Culling,” is about a group of actors doing what this group of actors is actually doing — producing a play about a group of actors producing a play entirely online.
The story: a bunch of actors, quarantined and bored to death, get together via Zoom to produce a play entirely online. The play they are producing is rumored to have been written by Malcolm Doty, the infamous cult leader, practitioner of dark magic and reputed mass murderer. It is an absurdly comical horror story, with the horror appearing to leak out of the script and into the real world of the actors. Or is it only in their minds? It’s the kind of play that might be expected from the crew that brought you “Lesbian Vampires of Sodom” and “The Head That Wouldn’t Die.”
This performance of “The Culling” featured an all-star cast of Olympia actors: Heather Christopher, John Serembe, Jacqui Martin, Michael Christopher, Rodman Bolek, Ryan Holmberg and Jessica Weaver. The play was completely naturalistic (with the understanding that theater people can never not be theatrical). There was plenty of banter as they talked about kids and pets, and there were the usual interruptions everyone has come to expect when Zooming: dogs bark, children and spouses are heard from, and there are technical problems. Ali (Heather Christopher), whose idea it was to do the play, cannot get her video to work, so the audience and her fellow performers hear her but never see her. Pearl (Weaver), is late arriving, nervous and put upon from working double shifts at the marijuana dispensary and from a bothersome spouse.
Act I is nearly all comedy, and this cast of veteran actors did a terrific job of animating the characters — a tribute to their talents and to Bujeaud’s directing skill. There were many telling little gestures, like Dix (Martin) vaping weed and Mac (Holmberg) constantly moving and messing with his hair. They also took advantage of this performance occurring online instead of on stage with such things as technical glitches and exaggerated closeups — most hilariously when Holmberg leaned almost into the camera.
At the end of the first act something has gone terribly wrong. Everyone’s screen goes black. No — it’s not your connection — it’s in the script. When things come back on, the actors have changed. Something has gotten into their minds. Pearl is convinced that her husband has become someone else. Cal (Serembe) says his dogs have turned on and killed each other. Duke (Michael Christopher) is convinced something has gotten into their equipment that is affecting their minds. Mac is freaking out. Tom (Bolek) tries unsuccessfully to be the wise leader that keeps everyone calm and collected.
The horror increases until the surprise ending.
“The Culling” is a funny horror story cleverly written and was well-acted and directed. Plus it was free, allowing one to watch from the safety of their own home. Watch a recording of “The Culling” on Facebook.