The titular “lot” in Kristin Newbom and W. David Hancock’s Our Lot—having its premiere at the HERE Arts Center through June 18 as part of Clubbed Thumb’s Summerworks 2011 festival—refers to many things throughout the very funny magical realist comedy. Most literally, it’s the property that three siblings are planning to sell following their step-father Karl’s death.
It’s Karl’s encyclopedic collection of fake and ridiculous celebrity mementos packed into big plastic bins, which Kathy, Alice and Stig (Joanna P. Adler, Mariann Mayberry, Paul Neibanck), along with Kathy’s partner Toby (Nathan Hinton), spend the entire play unpacking from the backyard shed and throwing away. It’s the broader lot of life, of suffering and losing, finding happiness and comfort, a lot all three siblings expect will improve with the sale of Karl’s house. And it’s Lot, the Bible character who fled Sodom with his family and couldn’t look back.
The siblings’ banter-filled dialogue, marked by corrective interjections from wheelchair-bound Iraq vet Toby, comes in ebbs and flows. Director May Adrales manages these shifting rhythms very well, building the script’s comic sections up to frenzied climaxes and then, at the drop of an injurious comment or backhanded remark, bringing a hushed tension over the group’s razor-sharp disputes.
Kathy, the bossy elder, is usually at the center of these, but Adler makes a point of showing the character’s warmth, humor and fleeting affection so that she never becomes a villain. Alice, the diplomat of the group, responds to Karl’s funny, fabricated historical artifacts with greater sentimentality. A forgery of Jacqueline Kennedy’s pink, blood-splattered dress reminds her of their long-gone mother’s pink dress; she optimistically digs for clues in a bin marked “Lennin” because their mother left the night John Lennon was shot. Toby bursts her bubble: “That’s Vladimir not John.” Stig, a thirty-something boy genius developmentally frozen after an unnamed accident at age 14, sports an eye patch and knocks the group’s dynamic off-kilter whenever it begins to settle. “You know that store in the mall, Forever 21?” He asks Toby, Neibanck giving the joke a perverse kind of glee. “It’s like I’m forever 14.”
Moments of intense anger, sadness and confusion interrupt the absurd humor of the slightly surreal setting with its ark-like collection of celebrity bins (Elvis, Reagan, Nixon, Darwin, Disney, Jacques Cousteau, John Wayne and so on), bright green grass, picket fence and hazmat suits—protection against a bee hive they’re about to bomb. However exaggerated or distorted these fights may seem—Alice maliciously announces: “Kathy gets nauseous every time she hears a certain song by Duran Duran,” prompting a search for the offending track—they have all the conflicted and self-destructive shading of every family fight. Newbom and Hancock keep raising the emotional stakes until humor, anger and violence all overlap and cancel each other out in a calm, powerful finale right out of Norse mythology that isn’t nearly so random or disproportionate as it sounds.
Our Lot continues at HERE Arts Center through Saturday night. Check back here the next Tuesday for a review of Civilization (all you can eat) (June 19-25), the final show in Clubbed Thumb’s Summerworks 2011 festival of new plays, and click here for a review of the first, Enfrascada.