Ryan Drummond and Sarah Moser spin an extraordinary love story in Shotgun Players’ Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness. BELOW: (from left) Moser, Patrick Kelly Jones and Drummond confront an interruption to the dramatic plan. Photos by Pak Han
From the moment you walk into the Ashby Stage auditorium to see Shotgun Players’ Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness, you know something special is going to happen. The space contains space: the back of a truck has been opened up and turned into a stage, complete with red velvet curtain and strings of festival lights extending out over the audience (the gorgeous design is by Nina Ball). We’re about to see theater about theater, and that’s exciting.
Playwright Anthony Neilson begins in a cosmic way as our host, Edward Gant (Brian Herndon) explains that humankind is caught somewhere between instinctual beast and a spiritual being. Because we are born and live fully aware of our mortality, that makes all of us innately lonely. For the next hour and a half or so, Mr. Gant promises to regale us with “deformities of heart and mind” that will be as true as the truth and talent will allow. That’s a heck of a promise, and he actually makes good on that.
Gant’s three performers then enact several bizarre tales of love, greed, betrayal, mystery and – yes – loneliness that whisk us from Sicily to Monaco to Vienna to England to Nepal and, in the end to Berkeley.
As a piece of writing, Neilson’s plays-within-the-play are marvelously imaginative and strange. Pearls squirt from pimples, holy men perform primitive brain surgery and life-size teddy bears tell sad tales of mistreatment a the hands of their child owners. Under the astute and careful direction of Beth Wilmurt, the splendid ensemble – Herndon, Ryan Drummond, Patrick Kelly Jones and Sarah Moser – finds exactly the right tone to balance the humor and the pathos. Everyone here, from the designers to the director to the actors, is reveling in theatrical storytelling as a means of identifying and, perhaps, temporarily staying that titular loneliness.
Edward Gant is an awful lot of fun, but this is soulful entertainment. Among its laughs and its oddities and its more disgusting moments (the word “cheese” takes on stomach-churning new meaning here), it has surprises to offer, not the least of which is a depth of yearning and a vast well of compassion for flawed humans stumbling through their own stories.
There’s so much to love about this show, but one segment that particularly thrilled me involved Drummond’s Jack Dearlove sharing some of his poetry, the highlight of which is “What Need Have I of Whimsy?” Also, Jake Rodriguez’s sound design offers a panoply of great organ music, something of which the world has not enough.
Speaking of music, the cast performs several beguiling musical interludes, including a heart-melting version of “Return to Me” with ukulele, accordion and wood percussion. A show can be as zany or grotesque as it wants to be as long as it can be grounded in something as beautiful and simple as this musical performance.
Shotgun famously programs anti-holiday shows during the holidays, but Edward Gant, which isn’t so far removed from the smart and spirited high jinks of Kneehigh over at Berkeley Rep, is actually perfect for this time of year: it’s a dazzling, emotional and altogether inspiring theatrical gift.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Anthony Neilson’s Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness continues through Jan. 11 at the Shotgun Players’ Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave., Berkeley. Tickets are $20-$35. Call 510-841-6500 or visit www.shotgunplayers.org.