October 23, 2007

‘Autocare’ actors engage, but script strays

BEWARE 2012 — The cast of “Autocare” during rehearsal.‘Autocare’Starring Valencia Bass, Mike Burmester, Natalie Curry, Fred Fischer, Jeremy Gutierrez, Ted Lesley, Matt Orme and Liz Vissing. Directed by Steve Woodring. Written by Juergen K. Tossman. A Bunbury Theatre production. Continues through Nov. 4 at the Bunbury Theatre, Henry Clay building, 604 S. Third St. For tickets or more information, call 585-5306 or visit www.bunburytheatre.org.Earth will experience a cataclysmic shift on Dec. 21, 2012, according to some interpretations of the ancient Mayan calendar. That day the sun and planets will move into an uncommon alignment with the Milky Way’s galactic equator.This idea, originally popularized in 1987 by New Age guru Jose Arguelles in his book “The Mayan Factor: Path Beyond Technology,” has become fodder for authors in the past two years (Daniel Pinchbeck’s “2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl,” Lawrence Joseph’s “Apocalypse 2012: A Scientific Investigation Into Civilization’s End” and Andrew Smith’s “The Revolution of 2012: Vol. 1, The Preparation”).Now, Bunbury Theatre puts its spin on this foretold event in the premiere of Juergen K. Tossman’s “Autocare.” The playwright and company’s producing and artistic director imagines this day in a garage somewhere in Kentucky. (Tossman’s previous plays with Bunbury include “Salvage Yard,” “Uncle Smiley’s Comin’ Home” and  “Assisted Living.”) The premise of “Autocare” seems deeply engaging from its description, but a rambling script makes for a confusing piece of drama.What is clear is the setting of this narrative. Director and set designer Steve Woodring furnishes the remarkably realistic set with signs for products by Michelin, Monroe and Firestone, a corner coffeemaker and a box of MoonPies. You can almost smell the burning coffee and the grease from the back.The realism, however, stops there. In the sitting area, several oddball characters wait for their cars to be repaired, including Pearl (Liz Vissing) and Bonnie (Valencia Bass). They have been lured to this business called Autocare by a marketing ploy. It is Ladies Day, meaning that women get free manicures, free pedicures and a free lunch. Pearl’s mouth almost waters each time she mentions the 6-ounce rib eye she plans to order at Texas Roadhouse. Bonnie announces that she patronizes Autocare for the pedicures.The sanest character is Charlie (Matt Orme), Pearl’s cantankerous husband who offers several hilarious one-liners. Orme gives a solid performance and is constantly in character. He shows Charlie as a steadfast and compassionate person while delivering biting dialogue that helps quicken the pace of the narrative. The script, however, seems to rely too much on Charlie to amuse the audience instead of presenting relevant dialogue pertinent to the action.Other characters include Dickey (Ted Lesley), Autocare’s overwhelmed sales clerk; Jack (Jeremy Gutierrez), a stranger passing through town on “a mission” and who just wants an oil change but is told his car needs numerous repairs; and Clyde (Mike Burmester), Bonnie’s partner who buys into the New Age prediction and believes Bonnie’s baby is Beelzebub. (The program noted that “Autocare” is Burmester’s acting debut. Still, that doesn’t absolve the actor from stumbling through some of his lines on opening night.)All of these characters and other story elements are intriguing, but the script, in its current form, is not able to tame them into a narrative and ascribe any deeper meanings to its characters and the final catastrophic event of the play.