Gulliver's travels in psychedelia? Neurotica? Schizophrenia? Your guess is as good as mine. Playwright/director R.J. Tsarov lived up to his billing as a master of the macabre with Always Saturday, on the boards recently at the AllWays Lounge.
The Gulliver in question is an unassuming guy named Mike (Andrew Larimer), who earns money by participating in test trials for new drugs. He's signed up to try Always Saturday, a boutique pharmaceutical intended to treat depression, schizophrenia and other disorders. The test will last 28 days and pay thousands, but Mike quickly finds lab conditions far more draconian than those in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
A domineering bleached-blonde nurse named Stephanie (Kerry Cahill) admits Mike to the study and subjects him to a series of baffling and illogical questions. Once approved for the experiment, he slips on a hazmat jumpsuit and starts taking the mind-altering drug. The set contains only two beds, and through the first act, a second human guinea pig named Speed-O (Chris Lane) rests motionless on the second bed. Mike's main anxiety, however, centers on having blood drawn and tested. If he only knew what was in store.
Having seen the show, I can't say with any certainty what was in store. Tsarov may be a master of the macabre, but his previous claim to fame was creating nonlinear plays. Always Saturday satisfies both descriptions.
The dialogue was snappy and delivered with verve, but the script often was ambiguous. Cast members threw themselves into the grotesque comic nightmare, but at times it seemed the actors themselves reacted emphatically to situations their characters did not comprehend. Here again, we enter the mysteries of the mind. If the drug was being tested as a cure for schizophrenia, perhaps some or all of the volunteers were chosen because they had the disease.
A second domineering bleached-blonde woman named Steph (Veronica Hunsinger-Loe) enters the picture. Is she the same person as Stephanie? Alter egos? hallucinations?
It turns out the two women were turning into zombies. One of the ways you know that is zombies can't speak — they can only send text messages on their iPhones, which here appear as oversized, nearly inseparable appendages. It's unclear whether the antidepressant creates zombies or helps users see a reality of zombified texters. Maybe it was this acidic bit of satire that made me think of Jonathan Swift and Gulliver.
It's good to have the talented Tsarov back after an extended absence from local stages. His direction is more assertive and his writing is as challenging as ever.