Rendezvous with Reality

Wilma Theater, 2030 Sansom St., through Jan. 14 (963-0345).

Rendezvous with Reality is the name of a book of New-Age essays edited by Todd Albright (David Ingram), a Colorado-based granola-bar magnate turned motivational lecturer in Murphy Guyer's new play Rendezvous with Reality, which is receiving its world premiere at the Wilma. Todd's private plane crash lands while he's on his way to a human-potential movement symposium in Montana, leaving Todd and his significant other Chelsea McKinnon (Jill Brennan) stranded in Northern Idaho, seeking shelter with Colin Claymore (Scott Hoxby) and his dumb-as-dirt extended family.

The comedy of the play comes in part from the satiric portrait of Todd and Chelsea, who spend all their time verbalizing their emotions, owning their own and each other's feelings, accusing one another of co-dependency or passive-aggressiveness, and generally being royal pains in the ass.

The balance of the comedy -- with much more interesting implications -- comes from the cultural clash between Todd and Chelsea and their white trash hosts. If Todd is right when he repeatedly asserts that "we each make our reality" (an assertion that the play ultimately calls into question), then Todd and Chelsea's reality has no room for the Claymore clan in it, nor theirs for Todd and Chelsea. When Todd tries to explain his predicament to the family, they can only respond with stunned silence. And when Chelsea suggests that the oversexed teenage daughter Trena (Juliette Dunn) get in touch with her "inner being," her mother (Alix D. Smith), hitting her upside the head, tells her instead that "there ain't nobody inside no one."

Guyer's satiric eye is keen (as evidenced by his earlier plays produced at People's Light and Theatre, and his work as an actor and director at the Wilma), and his ear for psychobabble is acute. And so, when he unleashes Todd and Chelsea on the locals and on one another, the comedy really flies. It's sheer joy, for example, to watch Ingram, fuming with barely controllable rage, stammer, "I'm experiencing a great deal of anger right now.''"

But Guyer's targets are such extreme cases that the satire is like shooting fish in a barrel. And sometimes the playwright's satiric contempt goes a bit too far --much too far, in the play's suggestion that all Chelsea-the-feminist really needs is to get laid.

The comedy of cultural mistranslation, which provides the play's gentler comedy, is the engine of the play's real subject: cultural relativism, and the challenges of dealing with evil in a dangerous world. So prepared are Todd and Chelsea to accept the family's peculiarities as folk culture and their hostility as quaintness that they don't notice the obvious: that Colin is the commander-in-chief of a Neo-Nazi White Supremacist army. And Colin and his clan find Todd and Chelsea's New-Ageisms so opaque that they can only conclude that the visitors are undercover FBI agents closing in for the last stand-off.

We're in the same scary territory that Steven Dietz dramatized in God's Country (staged last year by InterAct) -- but portrayed by Guyer with a comic touch missing from Dietz's play (or at least from the InterAct production).

Soon, the intrigue of the Neo-Nazi plot takes over, and propels the play to its melodramatic final confrontations. It also propels Todd to his greatest crisis, and Ingram to the finest moments in his performance: when Todd, who had reveled in being able to experience "the really truly real," is forced to confront the realities of hatred, violence and extermination. Ingram is brilliant here, not because he shows us Todd's dawning realization, but because he and the dramatist show us instead Todd's persistent refusal to see, his continued insistence on giving Colin the benefit of the doubt, even about genocidal racial hatred and anti-Semitism.

In an interview with house dramaturg Michael Hollinger in the Wilma's subscriber newsletter, Guyer compares Colin to Moliere's evil religious hypocrite Tartuffe. More to the point, Todd is like Orgon, the gullible husband, in Molire's play, except that, unlike Orgon, he retains a faith in his ideals that nothing -- not the evidence of his own eyes, not the sober advice of an FBI agent (Hank DeLuca), not the unimpeachable reality of death -- can ultimately shake. As a result, Todd's flaccid liberalism turns out to be even more terrifying, and more dangerous, than Colin's fascist survivalism.

Jiri Zizka directs both the comedy and the philosophy with an able hand (and an uncharacteristic ear for verbal rhythms). The rustic set by David P. Gordon, lit by Jerold R. Forsyth, is a wonder of down-and-dirty realism, complete with dirt floors and woodpiles. And the cast of rustics -- Smith, Dunn, Cory Einbinder as the teenage son, and, as the pathetic pater-familias, Kevin Del Aguila -- are frighteningly convincing. But -- **TYPE-CASTING ALERT** -- this is the second insufficiently clothed over-sexed teenage bimbo that Dunn has played locally in as many months. She might consider getting a new agent.

-- Cary M. Mazer