There's a lot of silliness going on at Theatre AUM. Thursday night's sold-out crowd was treated to a raucous two hours of Ken Jones's The Great Easter Egg Hunt, a lively and irreverent send-up of small town Southern culture, as the zany residents of Umatilla, Florida continuously sabotage one another in their quest for a golden egg and the promise of prizes and the right to reign as king or queen over the town for the next year.
Director Neil David Seibel is at the helm of the mayhem on stage. Told in episodic short scenes, much of the first act introduces various teams of provocateurs -- couples in love or lust, matronly gossips, rednecks, members of the local rifle club, and a local judge who imbibes too much home made cider -- and they could be our neighbors.
Hardly any of them are nice people, yet we are drawn into their lives by the very audacity of their characterizations. The gossip-mongers are so quick to judge others and spread only nasty rumors, considering themselves to be unassailable in their conviction of superiority. The local bad-girl who flaunts her reputation hides the fact that she is actually fairly nice so she won't be lonely [a good study of contradictions by Tina Neese].
The conflicted lovers Will [Mickey Lonsdale] and Perry [Andi Klimetz] are at the center of the plot. Constantly at odds with one another -- he is "smart" and has been accepted to Harvard, and they quibble about nuances of vocabulary that get misinterpreted at every turn with neither of them willing to budge. If either of them finds the golden egg, they might be doomed to remain in Umatilla (which both want to leave) and never realize their dreams.
Some of the roles are little more than caricatures -- and nasty ones at that. The redneck Dumpling brothers [Clem, Horseshoe, and You] are embarrassingly dumb, and the rifle-toting members of the gun-club just "have to shoot someone". When confronted with "You don't shoot someone without a reason", the retort is "Sure you do: this is America." It seems that "manhood" is defined in part by shooting a gun. Frightening, isn't it? And no wonder that Will & Perry are so intent upon leaving.
LaBrandon Tyre does an excellent job of portraying the judge as he becomes increasingly out of control from drink, even hallucinating that Will is Jesus and that he is experiencing "the rapture". Mr. Tyre's antics are hilarious.
Sarah K. Worley plays Perry's mother -- Lambie -- with a mix of flamboyance and a sense of rightness, and shows how appalled all of us should be at the behavior of the citizens of Umatilla.
While most of the characterizations are meant to be laughable, Wes Milton's depiction of Herring Pernell [one of the hunters in short-cropped hair] is downright frightening and dangerous, even when walking around in boxer shorts emblazoned with college football insignia. -- There are several moments in the comic action that provide a more serious cricicism of the goings-on in Umatilla.
E. John Williford, III's set design is detailed with a high degree of realism, taking the audience into the realm of a small town, and affording actors plenty of space for their grotesque behavior...and the actors are uniformly committed to their roles, taking us on a wild journey for about two hours.