Life is a highway

And Devil's Elbow is in the way
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  August 1, 2007
USING HER EYES: Kat Kiernan, right, as Elvis.

Devil’s Elbow| by Eileen Noon | Directed by Michael Howard | Produced by the Lanyard Theatre Company | at the Chocolate Church, in Bath | through August 4 | 207.442.8455 (between noon and 4 pm)
In a quintessentially American equation of life and highway, the fates of several Devil’s Elbow residents hang on the fate of an entrance ramp-to-be. There are only 35 legal drivers in this tiny Missouri town, so the proposed on-ramp will affect a significant proportion of the populace — most pointedly the patrons and employees of the Devil’s Elbow Café, which is slated for destruction. That is, today. As the townsfolk debate and count down the fate of the café, the trajectories of everybody’s souls are given considerable redirection, in Eileen Noon’s mischievously charming Devil’s Elbow, directed by Michael Howard in a world-premiere production for the Lanyard Theatre Company (reviewed here in preview).

It’s the keen, barefoot, and feline-curious Elvis, a preternaturally sensitive and very pregnant young waitress (the marvelous Kat Kiernan), who first encounters the tall, dark, and mysteriously ardent demo-man with the tape measure, John Cloud (Kevin O’Leary). As he lurks around in the café’s corners and doorways, measuring things, Elvis drawls mellifluently on and on about her birth (right here in the café, to the jukebox strains of “Return to Sender”); her obsessions with Elvis (she keeps his driveway gravel in her locket) and Jesus Christ (“You think it’s wrong to have a crush on your Savior?”); and the back stories of the cafe’s other main players.

There’s hankering in all of them. Hewlitt (Paul Haley), who owns the café just like his daddy before him, has long shared a mutual yearning with Sugie (Kerry Rasor), an old sweetheart and quadruple divorcee. Jerry Rush (Randy Chubbuck), the uncertain and blustery young father of Elvis’s child, just wants to get hitched with her. Finally, Sky (Cynthia Babak), Elvis’s co-waitress, has more in her past (and her heart) than little old Devil’s Elbow, and shares an immediate attraction with the ardent man with the dynamite, who has arrived to play catalyst to them all.

John Upham’s set echoes the ethos of Noon’s fine script — light, exuberant, and bright with the palate of magical realism. The play’s most delightfully impossible development (which plays out in a fun sound plot of Presley tunes plucked from the blue and spun through various decibel ranges), it turns out that young Elvis exercises certain powers over both the café’s absent jukebox and the inner ears of her cohorts.

The folks Elvis fiddles with so sweetly are an appropriately quirky crew, with dynamics just as madcap as the phantom jukebox tunes that steer their sentiments hither and thither. Particularly fraught with need and transformation are the viscerally attracted John and Sky, who share some fanciful scenes of romantic abandon. O’Leary soars nicely in an arc from archetypal Other to brimming paramour; and Babak, particularly, opens beautifully from Sky’s initial tension to a screwball radiance of gasps and tossed wet hair.

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Related: Theatrical progress, Myth and legend, Flashbacks: August 18, 2006, More more >
  Topics: Theater , Politics, Elvis Presley, Entertainment,  More more >
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