The Weight of Faith and Secrets

On a stormy night, Confederate solider, Captain Caleb DeLeon, returns home (a wonderfully gutted manor designed by Jeffery Stander) shortly after the Confederacy’s surrender at Appomattox.  He finds the family’s major-domo (and freed slave), Simon, still guarding the house.  Later joined by another former family slave, John, the three men realize it is Passover and have a traditional Jewish seder in which secrets are revealed in Matthew Lopez’s gripping drama, The Whipping Man, now playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Lopez’s script is one of the most thought provoking pieces of drama I’ve seen produced in a very long time.  It asks the audience questions of identity, what it really means to be free and to be a slave, the cost of secrets, and the price of faith.  Director Stephen Nachamie expertly navigates the multiple layers and themes of the show with well paced, skillful direction and has culled some powerful performances from his three actors.

Andy Prescott gives a fine accounting of himself in his debut performance at the Playhouse as Caleb DeLeon.  As DeLeon, Prescott demonstrates a great understanding of the use of body language as his character starts the show with a severely gangrenous left leg.  Every step had the audience wincing with him as he shuddered, gasped, and groaned from the pain.  Prescott is simultaneously sympathetic and unlikable as the former Confederate solider.  In some ways, he is more a slave than Simon and John as he is imprisoned by his culture, his cowardice, and his immaturity.  Yet he also has the soul of a poet and not as ingrained in the mindset of slavery as some of his contemporaries.

Prescott has a wonderful speaking voice which is capable of some very beautiful nuances.  This is especially crucial to his role as DeLeon is confined to a chair for the bulk of the play due to the amputation of his leg. But  I also thought that gift of voice could have been put to better use in some of the more dramatic moments.  A couple of poignant scenes seemed slightly too underplayed  and could have used a wider range of expression and emotion.

As Simon, Carl Brooks demonstrates complete mastery of his craft with a meticulously detailed performance.  Brooks’ presence is incredible as he fills the room with warmness, humility, and humanity.  Brooks’ Simon was brought up in Judaism as part of this household and he is very devout in that faith.  When he realizes that it is Passover, he decides to improvise a Jewish seder (Passover meal) which now means more to him than ever before since he is finally free and now has a true kinship with and understanding of his spiritual brethren on the night of the Exodus.

Brooks’ performance is flawless.  He ably moves from beat to beat, switching between joy, anger, pity, frustration, and concern on the turn of a dime.  Brooks also expertly handles the Hebrew pronunciation and possesses a fine singing voice as demonstrated during the seder.

Luther Simon’s cynically happy-go-lucky essaying of John brought a unique combination of lightness and darkness to the play.  As John, Simon presents a front of being jokey and lackadaisical.  But this front only serves to hide a very deep-seated hatred of his former life as a slave and his sense of betrayal by Caleb during a previous incident with the unseen whipping man.  Although he is now a free man, John is more of a slave than ever.  He is enslaved by  the bottle, by lying, by greed, and he is imprisoned in Richmond due to a life altering choice.  In turns, Simon is amusing and haunting.

Mounting a drama of this type requires a colossal amount of energy on the parts of the actors.  This is especially true for this show as each actor has enough dialogue for a one man show and must work his way through innumerable beats and moments.  This can severely tire a performer and was a bit noticeable in tonight’s show as it took a bit for the actors to really get going and their energy started to flag a bit at the end.  This in no way shortchanged this powerful tale which could be one of the finest dramas mounted this theatre season.

“This is who we are,” says Simon at one point.  And who they are was not determined by what they were born into, but rather by the choices that lead the characters to the climax of this sensational drama.

The Whipping Man will be performed at the Omaha Community Playhouse until November 16.  Performances are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  The show deals with sensitive subject matter and contains some adult language.  It is not recommended for children.  Tickets cost $36 ($22 for students).  Contact the box office at 402-553-0800 or visit http://www.omahaplayhouse.com.  The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha, NE.

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The Arizona Chronicles, Vol. 3, Night 3-Day 8: Arizona Mat and the Voodoo Blue (Woo Woo!)

After our escape from Schulte and the traitorous Johnny V, Arizona Mat zipped through the interstate traffic and we found ourselves in Las Vegas in slightly less than 2 hours.  We arrived at the Rio where we checked in under a pair of assumed names:  Drs. Alvin Koholic and Sy Schwardo.

“Which of us is which?” I asked.

“Does it really matter?” countered an exasperated Arizona Mat.

I shrugged my shoulders and we made our way to the 19th floor with a good view of the pool and mountains.  Believing we had shaken off the Oatmeal Gang, Arizona Mat suggested we go downstairs for some dinner and make some plans.

We chose the All American Grille.  Arizona Mat enjoyed fish and chips with a beer while I settled for French Dip.  The food tasted great and felt good after the long day of driving, escaping, and not eating.  As we dined, Arizona Mat laid out the scheme.

“There’s a fan fest for the Final Fantasy series of video games going on this weekend.  I have a contact attending who has the clues I need to ferret out the location of the Voodoo Blue (Woo woo!).”

“Would you stop that?”

“I try, but I can’t.  In any event, I’ll attend the fest tomorrow to meet my contact.  I suggest while I’m investigating, that you just relax and enjoy yourself.”

That sounded agreeable and I wandered around the Rio while Arizona Mat registered for the fan fest.  Upon completion we wandered across the street to the Palms where John Fogerty was playing a concert.  I found a new slot machine based on the 1960s Batman TV series and Arizona Mat and I tested our luck on it.  I dropped $20, but it was the most fun I had losing money in quite a while.  The machine was true to the spirit of the TV series, complete with campy fun and bonuses with narration done by Adam West.

After spending some time there, we went back across the street to wander through the Gold Coast.  Arizona Mat found a Wylund machine that treated him fairly well.  Upon winning a bit of cash, we returned to the Rio for a good night’s rest.

The next morning we had a quick breakfast at the BK Whopper Bar.  We agreed to meet at our room in the evening.  Arizona Mat headed off to the fan fest while I returned to the Gold Coast where I considered playing a little Bingo.  As I walked past the Port O’Calls buffet, I froze.  Walking out of the exit were Robert Schulte and Johnny V.

I decided to follow them to see if I could find their base of operations and discover if they were any closer than Arizona Mat to discovering the Voodoo Blue.  I trailed them to Bally’s where I joined the Total Rewards club in order to better blend into the background.  As a new member I was gifted with some slot free play which I utilized while I kept my eyes on the dangerous duo.

I seated myself at a Goldfish slot machine where I hit a bonus almost immediately and ended up banking $40 in profit.  As I pocketed my winnings, I saw my quarries leave Bally’s and begin heading across the street to the Cromwell.

Since my last visit to Vegas, the area had undergone some massive renovations.  The area around the High Roller (the world’s largest ferris wheel) had been completely redone.  One of the changes was the Cromwell (formerly Bill’s Gambling Hall).  The outside looked brand new; like a 5 star resort.  The inside matched the outside.  Very classy and elegant.  I slipped over to a Jurassic Park machine where I promptly lost the $10 in free play.

I glanced over my shoulder and saw that Schulte and Johnny V were no longer in the casino.  I quickly swept  the Cromwell and wondered if they might not have headed over to the Quad (formerly the Imperial Palace).  I was unable to find the Oatmeal Gang, but did find a Phantom of the Opera machine.  I hit a Music of the Night bonus which earned me a bit more money.

Thanks to the bonus I was able to earn enough Tier Credits to earn a pull on the Million Dollar Slot Machine at the front of the building.  I didn’t win a million dollars, but I did win a buy one, get one free buffet at most of the buffets owned by the Las Vegas Harrah’s properties.

From there, I investigated the Linq (which is where the High Roller is housed).  I was still unable to relocate Schulte and Johnny V, so I returned to the Rio where I relaxed in my room and worked on Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright, a puzzle/mystery game Arizona Mat had brought along on his 3DS.

Late in the afternoon, Arizona Mat came into our room all excited.

“I’ve found the Voodoo Blue (woo woo!)!”

“Where?”

“Based on the clues I’ve received from my contact, I’ve concluded that the Voodoo Blue (woo woo!) is somewhere in the vicinity of the Voodoo Lounge at the top of the Rio.  When the club opens later tonight, we’ll go and obtain it.  For now, let’s eat.”

Arizona Mat and I went downstairs to the Seafood Buffet where we supped on salmon, seafood gumbo, sushi, and other delicacies.  After a very filling meal, I told Arizona Mat I would walk off the meal and would meet him in the room later.  I took a shuttle over to Harrah’s where I walked over to the Bellagio to watch one of their famed water shows.

As the show reached to its climax, a man next to me said, “Beautiful sight, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is,” I agreed as I turned to face the man.

I felt the blood rush from my head as I stared into the hard, cruel eyes of Robert Schulte.  I felt the barrel of a revolver press against my ribs.

“How did you find me?”

“Find you?” replied Schulte.  “I’ve been trailing you. . .for hours.  For an amateur, you’re not a bad tracker.  It actually took me until the Cromwell for me to notice you.”

“So that’s why I couldn’t find you.”

“Correct.  I saw you over at the Jurassic Park machine.  Johnny V and I slipped outdoors and into the crowd and began following you.”

“Now what?”

“Now we return to the Rio and you and Arizona Mat lead us to the Voodoo Blue.”

Keeping his gun pressed to my back, Schulte forced me into the Rio shuttle at Bally’s and made me lead him to our room.  As I unlocked the door, I saw Arizona Mat sitting on the couch.

“Arizona, I’ve got some bad news.  They found me,” I said sheepishly.

“Don’t feel too bad.  They found me, too.”

As Schulte and I came further into the room, we saw a grinning Johnny V seated on one of the beds, his German Luger pointed directly at Arizona Mat.

“All right, Arizona Mat,” said Schulte, comfortably seating himself in a chair.  “Where’s the Voodoo Blue?”

“Woo woo!” cried Arizona Mat.

“If you do that one more time, I’m going to yank your tongue so hard that your ears will flip like window shades!” I snapped.

“Sorry,” said Arizona Mat.  “It’s somewhere on the roof around the Voodoo Lounge.”

“Excellent,” said Schulte.  “Let’s go and retrieve it.”

Schulte and Johnny V forced us into the elevator leading to the Voodoo Lounge.  Within a matter of moments, we were whisked up to the 52nd floor and we entered the rooftop nightclub.  As we weaved our way through the dancing partygoers, Schulte began to get impatient.

“Where is it?” he snarled.

“I don’t know, precisely.  I just know it’s somewhere up here,” said Arizona Mat.  “It’s going to take a bit of time to search for it with all of these people here.”

Despite having my life threatened, I had to admit that the view was pretty good.  I scanned in all directions, trying to enjoy the sparkling lights and awesome vista of the city.  I happened to glance down towards the Voodoo Zipline, a zipline that stretched from the top of the Masquerade Tower and went down to the Ipanema Tower.  Towards the end of the zipline, I saw a curious blue flash shining in the light.

“Arizona Mat, look!” I shouted, pointing towards the glow.

“It’s the Voodoo Blue (woo woo!)” said Arizona Mat.

Upon seeing the legendary stone, Arizona Mat broke out into a spastic dance out of sheer excitement or so I thought until he gave Schulte a hard shove into Johnny V.  Grabbing my sleeve, Arizona Mat pulled me down the stairs towards the Voodoo Zipline.  Shoving his way past the attendants, he bolted the door shut behind him.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“You’ll see,” said Arizona Mat, pulling out his trusty foam noodle.

Flinging it over the zipline, he motioned for me to grab one end of it.

“Are you crazy?” I yelled.

A shot from Schulte’s revolver whizzed over my head and I immediately grabbed one end of the noodle.  Arizona Mat and I screamed bloody murder as we slid towards the Ipanema Tower.  Bullets flew over our heads and the wire began to saw through the noodle.  It fell into two pieces just as we reached the Ipanema Tower.  I crossed myself in sheer relief as I peered over the edge of the building.  It was a long way down.

Triumphantly, Arizona Mat climbed the pole and removed the Voodoo Blue from its perch.

“I’ve done it!  I’ve found the Voodoo Blue (woo woo!)” crowed Arizona Mat.

“SHUT UP!!!” I thundered.

“Simmer down, friend.  Let’s get out of here before the goon platoon catches up with us,” said Arizona Mat.

We found a service ladder and made our way down to street level.  In order to stay hidden from the Oatmeal Gang, Arzona Mat and I spent the night in a dumpster where I used a rat for a pillow.

The next morning, Arizona Mat and I slipped into the Gold Coast where he picked the lock of a, thankfully, empty room where we were able to get cleaned up.  We chanced a Sunday brunch at the Port O’Calls Buffet, hoping that the Oatmeal Gang wouldn’t suspect us of remaining so close to the Rio.  Luckily our gamble paid off.

We spent the day wandering the streets of the Strip, slipping in and out of casinos.  Towards the evening, we sneaked into Planet Hollywood where we “borrowed” an unoccupied room.  Starving, Arizona Mat and I went to BURGR for a meal.  Arizona Mat once again feasted upon the Farm Burger while I savored the Gordon Burger (a pork patty with duck breast bacon, a relish, tomatoes, and butter lettuce).  Slipping into our room, we managed to get a good night’s sleep and I hoped against hope that we had finally managed to elude the Oatmeal Gang.

Arizona Mat insisted that we spend the day at Qua Baths and Spa in Caesar’s Palace, arguing that the Oatmeal Gang would never look for us in there.  I reluctantly agreed.  Amazingly, Arizona Mat was right.  We truly seem to have evaded them.  I enjoyed a hard workout on their updated equipment and began to relax.

After a Thai massage I found myself relaxing on one of the heated lounge chairs in the Roman Baths, a towel draped over my face.  Arizona Mat brought me a bottle of water which I thirstily drank.  After a day of relaxation, we headed over to Harrah’s to get some supper.

Arizona Mat stopped at a food court where we ordered some ramen.  Shortly after ordering, a wave of nausea passed over me and I began sweating profusely.  I sat down in a chair and Arizona Mat asked if I were tired and I said I just felt very flush.  We took our ramen and sat at a table.  I could only manage a few bites.

To make matters worse, two very unwelcome guests sat at our table:  Johnny V and Robert Schulte.

“Give me the stone!” demanded Schulte.

The last thing I remembered was losing my few bites of food as everything went black.

I awoke a few hours later back in my room at the Rio.  A cold compress was pressed to my forehead and I saw a concerned Johnny V looking down at me.  I weakly tried to shove him away, but lacked any strength.

“Take it easy,” said Johnny V.   “It’s OK.  He’s awake.”

Arizona Mat came around the corner of the vanity area.

“Welcome back to the land of the living,” said Arizona Mat.

“What happened?  What’s going on?”

“It was all part of Arizona Mat’s plan,” said Johnny V.

“What plan?” I asked.

“A plan to retrieve the Voodoo Blue (woo woo!) and capture Robert Schulte.  Johnny V was really a triple agent.  I used him to get close to Schulte to keep an eye on him and keep me apprised of his movements.  We were never in danger at any point.”

“But then why did we go through the motions of being pursued?”

“To lull Schulte into a false sense of security.  I told Johnny V to bring Schulte to the food court.  Your spell of nausea got Schulte off his guard.  After you purged, Johnny V managed to karate chop Schulte at the base of the neck and knock him out.  Then the police officers waiting in the wings came out and arrested him.  Johnny V will take the Voodoo Blue (woo woo!) back with him to Omaha and place it in a museum,” said Arizona Mat.

“Kind of chancy.  What would have happened had I not fallen ill?”

“That was part of the plan.  The water I gave you was spiked.”

“It was what?”

“It was spiked.  I needed you to be genuinely sick to throw Schulte off balance.”

“I see,” I said, my hands balling into fists.  “And what happened after Schulte’s arrest?”

“Well, we brought you back here and Johnny V and I went and rode the High Roller and then watched people do the jump off the Stratosphere.”

“So you not only poisoned me, you had fun without me?” I asked.

“I suppose that’s one way of putting it,” admitted Arizona Mat.

I felt my right eyeball begin to violently twitch as I spied a foam noodle on Arizona Mat’s bed.  It was quite a strange sight that night as I chased Arizona Mat throughout the casino swinging the noodle like a baseball bat.

By the next morning I had forgiven Arizona Mat and he, Johnny V, and myself had a final breakfast at the Port O’Calls buffet where we enjoyed fruit, corned beef hash, French Toast, chicken fried steak, biscuits & gravy, bacon, O’Brien potatoes, sausages, coffee, and juice.  We checked out of the Rio and began the long drive back to Gilbert, Arizona.  A drive made longer still by road work which tacked an additional 90 minutes onto the drive.

After returning to Arizona Mat’s home, we stretched our legs a bit and then walked over to Café Rio where Arizona Mat and Johnny V partook of steak and taco salad respectively and I ate the most delicious chicken quesadilla I had ever tasted.  We returned to Arizona Mat’s and gathered around his fire pit sharing stories of the adventure we had just shared while sipping Blue Moon Pumpkin Ales.

Today Arizona Mat dropped me off at the airport.  We shook hands and I knew I was fated to join him in another adventure at some point in the future.  As I headed towards my gate, I saw a nearly emaciated Tall Square still squeezing the dummy’s hand with all his might.

“Submit!!  Submit!!” he grunted.

“Open your eyes, son,” I said as I patted him on the back as I passed him.

I saw him open his eyes and freeze in shock as he stared at the mannequin’s appendage he was holding.

“5. . .4. . .3. ..2. . .1,” I counted down.

“MATTTTT!!!!!!!!!!!!!” bellowed Tall Square.

Well, the more things change the more they stay the same.

The Arizona Chronicles, Vol 3, Days 2 & 3: Lazy Days and Betrayals

One strange thing I’ve noticed about Arizona Mat. . .OK, one of the many strange things I’ve noticed about Arizona Mat is that he always takes the day before an exploration to do absolutely nothing.  He calls it getting into a state of “exploring zen”.  I’m not sure if I believe it or not, but I’m certainly glad he does this because I need that 24 hours to readjust my body clock to the new time zone.

I spent my morning eating a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios Medley Crunch, taking a long bath, rescheduling my viewing of Giraffealanche, and organizing my belongings while Arizona Mat made plans with Johnny V.  Arizona Mat’s behavior around Johnny V was truly astonishing.  In past chronicles, I have presented Arizona Mat as an arrogant, pushy, egocentric boor.  And believe me, that’s an apt description.  However, Johnny V seemed to bring out Arizona Mat’s better qualities.  He treated Johnny V like his father.  He was respectful, jokey. . . almost likable.

After a morning of puttering around, we took a walk to Jack in the Box for a bit of lunch.  Johnny V settled for a soda.  Arizona Mat enjoyed two Southwest tacos and a cinnamon-sugar doughnut.  I enjoyed a Bacon Sriracha Burger.  Afterwards I asked to stop at an FYE store so I could peruse their DVD selection.  Arizona Mat decided he would head for home while Johnny V offered to keep me company.

FYE didn’t have much of a selection so Johnny V and I left the store and walked to Fry’s to pick up some pumpkin ale and chips.  As we walked, Johnny V told me how he had been a friend of Arizona Mat’s father for many years and that he considered Arizona Mat a son.  I was really touched by this story and found myself really liking Johnny V.

Upon buying the liquor, we returned to the house.  Arizona Mat and Johnny V caught up on old times while I went to rest in my room for a couple of hours.  Afterwards, Arizona Mat introduced me to an anime series called Attack on Titan while Johnny V went for a swim in the pool.

Eventually, Arizona Mat wanted to go out on the town.  So we piled into his car and went bowling.  Arizona Mat was on a roll as he broke 200 again.  In fact, he surpassed the game he had bowled during my last visit.  I started off very strong, slipped in my next two games, readjusted my style, and finished strong.  Johnny V had a rather unique bowling style.  Yet it seemed to work, as he usually had good rolls.  In fact, he had the roll of the night when he picked up a 6-7 split.  It was really a fun night and I felt loose and relaxed.

The next morning, we found ourselves on the road at about 8:30am.  Johnny V had requested that Arizona Mat make a stop in Kingman, AZ so he could visit an old friend.  Arizona Mat agreed to the request and we made good time, arriving in Kingman shortly before noon.

We pulled into the driveway of a trailer home and Johnny V told us to make ourselves at home while he went to find his friend.

“OK, Chris.  Once we get into Vegas, we’ll start looking for the Voodoo Blue (Woo woo!) right away,” said Arizona Mat.

“And then, you’ll be giving it right to me,” said a voice.

Arizona Mat and I looked up and saw an elderly man wearing a cap with a closely cropped beard.  Arizona Mat’s eyes narrowed as he said, “You!” huskily.

“Who is that?” I asked.

“This is my best enemy,” said Arizona Mat.  “His name is Robert Schulte (pronounced Ro-bear Shull-tay).  And he’s the leader of Le Gang De La Farine D’avoine.”

“The Oatmeal Gang???” I said disbelievingly.

“Don’t let the moniker throw you.  They’re a deadly gang of elderly adventurers who specialize in stealing rare artifacts.  We’ve met on several occasions,” said Arizona Mat.

“And once more, something you have discovered will belong to me,” said Schulte with a sinister smile.

“I don’t think so, Robert,” said Arizona Mat with a chuckle.  “The odds are slightly against you.  Three to one.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure about that, Arizona,” said Johnny V, reappearing in the room with a Luger leveled at us.

“Johnny??” said a stunned Arizona Mat.

“Johnny has been one of my most trusted operatives for years,” said Robert Schulte smugly.

“A double agent!” I said.

“Very good,” said Johnny V.

“But what about all that stuff about Arizona Mat being like a second son?” I asked.

“Oh, that was all true.  But this is about money,” said Johnny V.

“Do you have any friends who don’t try to stab you in the back?” I asked Arizona Mat.

“Just you,” said Arizona Mat.

“I’m more of an acquaintance than a friend and I don’t like you that much.”

“Eh.  I take what I can get,” said Arizona Mat, as he reached a hand into his jacket.

In a blur of motion, Arizona Mat withdrew a foam noodle and slapped the gun out of Johnny V’s hands.  I threw a chair into the path of the two men and Arizona Mat and I bolted through the door.  We dove into his car while Arizona Mat revved the engine and burned rubber out of there.

So there we were.  Making a desperate rush to Las Vegas to keep the Voodoo Blue out of the hands of a dangerous gang who had no qualms about eliminating the two of us.  My blood froze as I began to realize the stakes of this particular bet.

The Arizona Chronicles, Vol 3, Day 1: Dope Springs Eternal

It started off as such a lovely day.

The birds were singing.  The sky was sunny.  And there was nary a cloud in the sky.  Yes, it truly was a good day for travel.

Once again I was flying to Arizona.  For my regular readers, you may recall that that the last time I traveled to Arizona, I was working on a deal with the SyFy Network to produce my script, Giraffealanche, as their latest original movie.  Regrettably, I was a bit sidetracked when I was reunited with an unwelcome acquaintance.

In the ensuing months since those escapades, I had ironed out a deal and was now returning to Arizona to watch a rough cut of the film.  This time, I felt certain I would not be bumping into certain individuals who shall remain nameless.

I arrived at the airport and hopped aboard my Southwest Airlines flight.  I found myself seated to a pleasant, elderly gent named John.  He was slightly below average height, had a short crew cut of gray hair, had a stocky build, and dressed very casually.  I found him to be a likable guy and we shot the breeze on many subjects.  I found that also was heading to Arizona to visit family and would be on the same connecting flight as I.

This was one of the smoothest flights I had taken in quite a while.  We left early and made it to Denver, CO in almost precisely an hour.  I had an hour layover between flights so I made a quick visit to Xpress Spa inside the Denver airport for a 20 minute neck and shoulder massage to relieve the tightness in my shoulders and right arm (the unfortunate curse of working at a keyboard all day).

Soon I was flying through the air on another smooth flight and arrived in Phoenix a little early.  As I grabbed my luggage from the carousel, John told me he had a car waiting for him and offered to give me a lift to my hotel.  I readily agreed and we stepped into a waiting limo.

I continued chatting with John as we rode down the interstate.  I happened to glance out the window and I noticed that we were passing Golfland in Mesa, AZ.  I then realized that this route seemed awfully familiar.

“John?” I asked.  “Where are we going?”

Suddenly the driver pressed a button on the dashboard and some distinctive music began to play.  To my mounting horror, John began to sing lyrics with the music.

“He’s Arizona!!  Arizona Mat!!  Arizona!!!  Arizona Mat!!”

The driver removed his hat and shades and turned to look at the both of us, an impish grin playing over his face.  I slowly turned my head to glare at John.  Suppressing my urge to throttle him, I buried my face in my hands and began to weep.  It was Arizona Mat.

For those of you new to this website, I refer you to the archives section for the stories entitled The Arizona Chronicles and The Arizona Chronicles, Vol 2 where I met a supposed explorer named Arizona Mat and his Neanderthal sidekick, Tall Square.  Arizona Mat was so full of himself that I’m surprised he didn’t refer to himself in the third person.  He had a strange love-hate relationship with his lackey, Tall Square.  By that I mean they loved to hate each other.  In fact, the last time I had seen the two of them, Tall Square was chasing Arizona Mat through the Sky Harbor airport.

“There, there,” said Arizona Mat.  “It’s nice to see you again, too.  No need to shed tears of joy.”

Resigning myself to the inevitable, I asked Arizona Mat how he managed to know that I was coming into town.  He explained that Johnny V, indicating John, was an old family friend based out of Omaha, NE.  He had Johnny V keep tabs on me until he knew I would be returning to Arizona.

“Why?” I asked.

“I’m about to make another epic discovery and I need my biographer to document my greatness,” replied Arizona Mat.

I rolled my eyes and asked what had happened to Tall Square.

“As you may recall, that Nordic gorilla was chasing me through the airport.  I tried to duck into a store to escape him, but plowed into some mannequins.  Applying my brilliant brain to the dilemma, I grabbed one of the mannequin arms and persuaded Tall Square to stop.  I told him that I knew he was only upset because he had lost the handshake duel.  I therefore offered him a rematch, but with the caveat that we both have our eyes closed because that allowed one to execute more force.  He agreed and I stuck the mannequin hand into his and made my daring escape.”

“Are you saying. . .” I began.

“Yep,” said Arizona Mat.  “As far as I know, that dummy is still trying to make a dummy submit.”

I rubbed my face and asked why he had “borrowed” me.

“Later, my Boswell.  Later.  Let’s enjoy ourselves for now,” said Arizona Mat.

After settling into his home, Arizona Mat, Johnny V, and myself walked the short distance to the Flaming Kebab for dinner.  I enjoyed a gyro sandwich with a cup of lentil soup and some water.  Arizona Mat feasted on Chicken Kafka, rice, Greek Salad, and iced tea.  Johnny V supped on a gyro platter with rice, Greek Salad, and raspberry tea.  Johnny V, a rather generous sort, paid for our meals.

After the meal we returned to Arizona Mat’s home where we sat around his new fire pit, drinking home brewed root beer, and listening to Arizona Mat regale us with some of his “legendary” adventures.  After finishing up the tale of his rescuing me from a homicidal ex-associate (read The Arizona Chronicles, Vol 2 to find out what really happened), Arizona Mat rubbed his hands with glee and announced it was time to get down to business.

“Have you ever heard of the Voodoo Blue (Woo woo!)?” asked Arizona Mat.

“What on earth is the Voodoo Blue Woo Woo?” I asked.

“I didn’t say the Voodoo Blue (Woo woo!) Woo woo.  I said the Voodoo Blue (Woo woo!)”

“You just did it again.  You keep making this high pitched sound after you say Voodoo Blue.”

“Woo woo!  I’m sorry.  It’s just that I get excited whenever I say or hear the words Voodoo Blue (Woo woo!)  It’s a rare blue diamond that was supposedly forged by a houngan (voodoo priest).  I’ve been researching its history and certain clues have led me to its discovery.  It’s somewhere in Las Vegas, NV.  On Friday, the three of us will drive over there, I’ll discover it, and your masterful writing will make me even more famous than I already am.”

“Have you ever read any of my articles about you?” I asked.

“No.  I’m modest in that way.  But you’re writing about wonderful me, so I’m sure they’re stunning pieces of work.”

“Yes they are,” I said.

So once more I would be joining Arizona Mat on an adventure.  I knew not what the future would bring, but I knew trouble and hilarity probably were not far behind.

Dishonor Among Thieves

The owner of a dingy junk shop plots to steal back a rare coin that he sold for $90.  His angry, paranoid friend wants a piece of the action, but plans to take far more than the coin.  A recovering drug addict wants to help, but gets more than he bargained for with his two cohorts.  This is the plot of David Mamet’s American Buffalo which kicks off the Blue Barn Theatre‘s 26th season.

This is the most difficult script I’ve ever seen produced.  The characters often speak in fragments with the broken dialogue overlapping each other.  It also requires very intense listening from the audience as the characters never come out and say what it is they plan to do.  It’s hinted at, suggested, and implied.  A work like this requires the best performances from the best actors and needs surefire direction.  Fortunately, that’s exactly what we get as Susan Clement-Toberer’s fabulous staging and directing of a top flight cast make for a intense and satisfying night of theatre.

Martin Scott Marchitto has really outdone himself on this set.  It’s so simple, yet so complex.  The set looks like an ordinary, cluttered basement, yet was designed from scratch.  Throw in the properties from Amy Reiner and you’ve got the perfect setting for a crime drama.

Jerry Longe gives one of the most beautifully underplayed performances of his career as Donny Dubrow, the owner of the junk shop and mastermind of the theft.  Longe’s Dubrow really isn’t a villain.  He’s just slightly shady.  Dubrow clearly doesn’t earn a lot of money from his junk shop, yet always seems to have a roll of cash handy.  As Dubrow, Longe is cool, level-headed, and methodical with a yen for his health which is demonstrated by his fondness for yogurt.  Long also imbues Dubrow with a strong streak of kindness and humanity as he has taken a young drug addict under his wing and is helping him to overcome his demons.

Dubrow desires to steal back a rare coin he sold simply because he’s certain he can get far more money than the $90 he originally received.  Lending credence to his less than villainous nature is the fact that all he wants is the coin.  His only mistake is cutting his friend, Teach, in on the scheme and gets infected by his paranoia.  This error nearly leads to a lethal mistake at the play’s climax, but also permits Longe a beautiful and tender moment of redemption in the end.

Thomas Becker is a wonder as Walter “Teach” Cole.  Teach is a brutish paranoiac who clearly hates his lot in life and believes everyone is against him.  Becker plays Teach with a sensational twitchiness.  The man cannot sit still and constantly moves around like an animal stalking its prey.  It’s almost as if his body can just barely contain it’s seething ferocity.  When he learns about Donny’s plan, he immediately volunteers to help and plan the whole crime.  Teach likes to pretend he’s a criminal mastermind by hiding from police cars cruising by on the street, but his so called plans and failure to think anything through reveal him to be the rankest of amateurs.

Teach’s suspicious nature nearly wrecks everything when he starts to suspect allies as enemies.  When the whole truth of the situation is revealed, Becker’s Teach disintegrates into a temper tantrum that finally removes the mask and reveals Teach as an overgrown child who merely wants to win, just once, in life.

Jonathan Purcell does exceptional work with the role of Bobby.  Purcell paints a haunting picture of a former drug addict struggling to stay clean.  He gives Bobby little tics to indicate his body’s desperation for a hit.  Yet he also gives Bobby a fierce loyalty to Donny as he would do anything to make Donny happy.  Purcell injects some levity into the show as his Bobby is clearly as dense as a brick.  Whether from natural inclination or due to excessive drug use is left to the audience’s interpretation.  When Bobby’s loyalty is called into question, Purcell splendidly adds a sense of tension to the character up until the revelations begin.

A few scenes of violence need some fine tuning to be more believable, but these do not detract from the superlative work of this talented trio.  With acting and direction of this caliber, American Buffalo has all the hallmarks of a major hit.

American Buffalo runs through Oct 25 at the Blue Barn Theatre.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm.  Two Sunday performances will take place on Oct 12 & 19 at 6pm.  Tickets are $30 for adults and $25 for students, seniors (65+), TAG members, and groups of ten or more.  For reservations, call 402-345-1576.  The Blue Barn is located at 614 S 11th St in Omaha, NE.  American Buffalo contains very strong language and a couple of scenes of violence.  It is not recommended for children.