“I’m going to The Deepest Play Ever,” I told my friends on Wednesday, “and yes, that’s the actual title.” Which wasn’t exactly accurate. The full title of the production is “The Deepest Play Ever: The Catharsis of Pathos, The Post-Post-Apocalyptical Allegory of Mother LaMadre And Her Son Golden Calf OR: Zombies Will EAT Your Brain! AN EPIC TRAGIDRAMEDY.”
But I make a practice of shortening anything longer than a Fiona Apple album title, so.
Playing at the New Ohio Theatre, this strange, meandering mashup of folklore and pop culture takes place some time after the fifth world war, in a post-apocalyptic landscape. The first in a cycle of 800 plays, as we’re told by “Time as Narrator” (Phillip Taratula) – the last thespian, who has organized a batch of ragtag performers somewhere in a junkyard.
This first play is about Mother LaMadre (Chinasa Ogbuagu), a figure whose love of knowledge and books has become her life’s work – something she reminds us to remember, and assures us she’ll remind us of. We learn of her daughter, the simple but kindhearted KitKat (Boo Killebrew) as well as her son, the favorite child, Golden Calf (Nick Choksi). Playwright (Geoffrey Decas O’Donnell), also performing here as Dalvadore Sali, has drawn inspiration from the works of canonical greats such as Shakespeare, Marlowe, Brecht, Strindberg, Coleridge and Lorca, while infusing the epic words of both these and the Greek tragedeans with the spark and fury of more modern writers – Sarah Kane, Ray Bradbury, Lewis Carroll. Instead of resulting in a derivative script, O’Donnell’s remaking of these texts brings an edge of folklore to LaMadre’s story.
Although it contains superfluous zombies, the core of this play is in precisely that remaking. O’Donnell equates today’s pop culture with its past counterparts, treating the older texts with both irreverence and skill. Although it isn’t until late in the game that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead gets a shout-out, the show had long-since drawn comparisons to that production in my mind.
A full-length production that moves quickly and is a pleasure to return to after the intermission, The Deepest Play Ever does turn into a Stoppardian chaos in its final moments, with declarations of Arts triumph over violence seeming strangely disjointed and disconnected from the earlier allegory – but maybe this, too, can be interpreted as a reflection of how the sense of fairy tales and allegories can sometimes seem exactly the opposite.