Charles Mee's Full Circle is a wild, rangy ride of a play stuffed full of smart ideas and strange images. Of course, strange and smart is what the folks at Infernal Bridegroom Productions do so well -- and when that strangeness involves the politics of capitalism along with women baring their breasts, the show that results is as wonderfully bizarre as it gets.
The story takes place during the chaos of 1989 East Berlin, just as the Wall is falling. In a scraggy theater we meet Pamela Dalrymple (Tek Wilson), a traveling aristocrat, who's come to the country just to sightsee. When students burst through the theater doors and announce the great political storm that is taking place outside, all hell breaks loose. Erich Honecker (Walt Zipprian), the dreaded communist who ruled East Berlin from 1971 to 1989, happens to be in the audience, along with his lady friend and baby. But he manages to escape the students' wrath, only after he abandons his baby.
Pamela is left holding the child. She stands there, in her fancy pumps, her tidy suit and well-coiffed hair, wondering what to do. When she discovers that some want to "arrest" the baby as the offspring of one of the most notorious leaders of the late 20th century, she decides she must save it. She determines to take it with her, though she hardly knows how to hold a baby, much less care for one. Happily she manages to employ an East German student named Dulle Griet (AJ Ware) as the baby's au pair, and together, the three hunker down and head out into a changing country while trying to stay clear of the authorities.
What follows is a tale that slides easily between political rant and Stooges-like comedy. Pamela and Dulle Griet pass by the museum, where they stop so that Pamela can steal a statue from the Pergamon Altar, which she declares was first "stolen" from the Greeks. So Pamela's actually saving the statue. While at the museum, though, Pamela and Dulle Griet catch the interest of two clownish guards (played with hilarious silliness by Noel Bowers and Cary Winscott). And so the guards set off after our two heroines as they make their way through the suburbs of Berlin, where Pamela, the aristocrat, inspires much awe. The ladies also struggle across a rope bridge, trying to elude the bumbling police. With baby in tow, Pamela declares that she's going to be a good person, which Mee implies is especially hard for the aristocrat, who talks constantly about money and wealth and social hierarchy. It's Dulle Griet, the East German, who makes the better mother. She's the one who knows the most about sacrifice and thus real love.
All this excitement is frothed up into a frenzy of powerful energy by the quirky direction of Anthony Barilla. Barilla integrates familiar pop tunes into the action, and sometimes the characters break out into short dances. All the actors run on stage and fill it up with a sea of moving arms and shaking hips. At other moments, a single character sits quietly at a card table, simply smoking a cigarette as he rails against the status quo or talks about the purpose of theater in a new world order. There is a joyful slapdash feel to this collage of ideas -- thinking about big ideas never looked like so much fun.
Adding to the circuslike atmosphere is Kirk Markley's terrific set. The stage has been stripped down to its brick walls. At center stage is a circular platform that rotates. Sometimes, when Pamela and Dulle Griet go walking through Berlin, everyone else in the show will sit at the edge of the platform turning it, so that the ladies can stroll easily along, never getting anywhere. At other times, the rotating platform is used to create clever scene changes. And as the central action happens on the platform, the other actors remain on stage, at the edges, either changing their costumes or simply sitting in chairs, watching what's going on in the circle at center stage. There are so many things to look at that it's often hard to take it all in.
Running at just under three hours, Full Circle is a mini-marathon of ideas and images. And though it's bound to leave you a bit weary, at the end of the night you'll find there's also much to talk about on the way home.
Get the Theater Newsletter
Get a rundown of upcoming theater events and ticket deals in Houston.