Remember the Men’s Movement, that took American culture by storm in the ‘80s? Men drawn to male-bonding and group drumming would meet in the wilderness somewhere for a weekend retreat, baring their souls and gaining a new perspective on their masculinity, sometimes fueled by drink or drugs and powered by pseudo rituals for self-examination. Well the Movement is alive and well, sort of, in the world premiere of local playwright David Templeton’s newest play, Drumming with Anubis, currently running at Left Edge Theatre. A strong cast, a hefty dose of humor and a dash of poignancy make for a thoroughly enjoyable evening’s performance sure to engage your funny bone as well as your thoughts on gender and culture.
Five men gather on a weekend in the California desert to drum and renew their commitment to a somewhat pagan organization designed and formerly run by a heavy metal rock star, Joshua Tree. But it seems Josh is no longer with us, and Charlie AKA “Chick,” played by Chris Schloemp, is attempting to lead the group in Josh’s stead. He’s aided by returning group regulars: Richard Pallaziol as Ray AKA “Stingray,” Nick Sholley as Neil AKA “Professor,” and Anthony Martinez as Adam AKA “Bull.” The group has dwindled in numbers over the years, but these stalwarts are determined to keep Joshua’s traditions alive, and this year have even attracted a newbie, nicknamed “New Bitch” by Bull, played by Mark Bradbury.
Josh’s major passion was for Anubis, the fabled Egyptian half-Jackal half-human god who protected graves and embalmed the dead, but was best known for the weighing of human hearts to determine who would enter the realm of the afterlife. This ancient deity figures in all the chants and rituals of Josh’s group, some of which are quite amusing, and others that hint of emotional power. We witness the attempts to revive and maintain enthusiasm for the group rules and rituals in spite of Josh’s absence, and can laugh at the silliness, the obvious parodies, but clearly, there is also a connection to the narrative that the men cling to and celebrate.
And then there’s a big surprise.
Act One’s meandering text introduces us to the characters and the group’s strange little revival meeting, and can make us wonder where this is all headed— but wait for it, and suddenly everything is turned on its head with a major plot twist. No spoiler here, but the play definitely comes alive just before intermission, promising more excitement.
That promise pays off in Act Two in ways I can’t reveal, except to say that when Ivy Rose Miller joins the men onstage there’s even more surprise in store. The humor continues, but touching monologues and interactions add depth to the narrative, extending our understanding of the characters and their need for the connection the group provides. Eminently relatable, one or more of them may unexpectedly move you. Templeton’s clever script pushes buttons and pushes our hearts in unanticipated ways, encouraging a deeper perspective even as we laugh.
Kudos to director David L. Yen for inspired casting and capturing the heart and humor of the piece. The ensemble are all excellent actors, thoroughly capable of delivering the comedy and the pathos. They play off each other extremely well, testimony to their considerable skills. Argo Thompson’s deceptively simple set is enhanced by wonderful scenic projections by Chris Schloemp and atmospheric lighting by April George. Sound design by Joe Winkler and costumes by Sandra Ish add delightful touches to the ambience and the characters. It’s a seamless spectacle, where all elements come together beautifully.
This one is selling out already and is sure to be talked about for months to come. Set aside preconceptions and enjoy the fun, frivolity, and yes, the feels.
Drumming with Anubis
Presented by Left Edge Theatre through June 30, 2019
Fri/Sat at 8:00pm, Sun at 2:00pm [this varies depending on the theater]
Tickets: $25 general, $40 VIP Premium
Photos by Katie Kelley