The Circle X Theater Co., one of this town’s more laudably ambitious resident theater companies, and playwright Paul Mullin have been a winning team since 1999’s successful, award-winning preem of Mullin’s “Louis Slotin Sonata,” which focused on the birth of nuclear warfare. His latest is an ambitious excursion through the dense fabric of American history. It spotlights an eclectic array of historical hot spots, including a panoramic view of America’s purveyors of violence from Crispus Attucks to Audie Murphy, the 1863 New York Draft Riots, the orphan trains of the 19th century, the dueling philosophies of poets Walt Whitman and Ezra Pound, the Rat Pack in Vegas, the rise of Microsoft and much, too much, more. The production bogs down under the weight of the playwright’s overuse of historical fodder, despite the best efforts of a large and talented Circle X ensemble under the imaginative helming of Jim Anzide and Jonathan Westerberg.
In a gameshow led by the macabre but ever-encouraging Host (Kevin Fabian) and his two hypersupportive Spokesmodels (Jamie Bullock, Daniele O’Loughlin), contestants (ostensibly picked from the audience) travel through time and space to compete for the ultimate prize of perfect enlightenment. The chosen three — Kim (Wendy Abas), Tonya (Rebecca Avery) and Barry (William Salyers) — soon find themselves evolving through myriad deaths and rebirths, hoping that their many incarnations will eventually lead them to their “soul goal” of spiritual perfection.
As a platform for the playwright’s often jaundiced view of America’s history, the gameshow sendup works well up to a point. Mullin offers an intriguing treatise suggesting violence has been the substance that has led this nation’s evolution to supreme superpower. The souls of the three contestants are intermingled in a surreal marriage of Confederate Civil War Gen. Stonewall Jackson (Richard Marshall) to abolitionist Harriet Tubman (Ameenah Kaplan). Their bloody and bloodied offspring include a philosophical Jamestown wife (Kellie Waymire) devoured by her ravenous husband (Thomas Craig Elliott), Revolutionary War martyr Crispus Attucks (Yvans Jourdain), social revolutionary Emma Goldman (Rebecca Avery), WWII hero Audie Murphy (Michael McColl) and freedom fighter Molly Pitcher (O’Loughlin).
There are also some captivating dramatic moments — the haunting visage of frightened teenager Tom Hennessy (Peter Friedrich) guarding a gun during the New York Draft Riots and a hilarious battle of mismatched wits, pitting woefully inadequate IBM exec Tom Watson (Conrad Cimarra) against the benign but relentless Microsoft (Waymire).
The wit and wisdom begins to wear thin during a tedious display of one-upmanship by poets Walt Whitman (Salyers), Emily Dickinson (Abas), Sylvia Plath (Avery), T.S. Eliot (Cimarra) and Ezra Pound (Richard Marshall). The production bogs down seriously during an overly long subway car sequence in which various soon-to-die passengers choose the next path their souls will travel. The low point in the evening is an inexplicable, mind-numbing bit of self-indulgence featuring a Vegas lounge gathering of Frank Sinatra (Elliott), Dean Martin (McColl) and Sammy Davis Jr. (Kaplan) to pay saccharine homage to those kings of shuffle swing, Louis Prima, Sam Butera and the Witnesses.
Despite the unevenness of the production, the Circle X ensemble cannot be faulted. This is especially true of the transcendent portrayals of Waymire, whose haunting and hilarious outings as mad bomber Surge and the near demented supermodel Jacqui Potts are the highlights of the show.
The quirky sets and evocative original music of Michael E.R. Habicht and Tim Labor, respectively, create the proper gameshow atmosphere.