When’s the last time, in the theater, that you saw a really good, slow spit take?
Okay, I’m getting ahead of myself.
What John O’Keefe’s play “All Night Long” makes painfully apparent is how traditional and straight forward the vast majority of theater is. Think about it, most of the theater that’s produced presents the same version of reality. What’s said onstage is a slightly heightened version of what we say everyday. Our deep dark thoughts and emotions, especially the dicey ones, remain largely on the inside.
American theater is a bit like a kid with a Lego set who only builds the pictures on the box. The parts are always put together in the same way to make something that looks on the surface like life looks on the surface. But, let’s face it - those pieces can do a lot more than that (both with Lego and with theater).
John O’Keefe is asking us to look beyond the surface towards something altogether more bizarre and, strangely, more real.
On the surface “All Night Long” is a play about what happens in a nuclear family from the time they come home from work and school to the time they head back the next day. The family, at least in terms of numbers, is made of mom, dad, and three kids. But that description captures none of the magic of Mr. O’Keefe’s play.
Maybe imagine what it would be like if a 1950’s family tv sitcom, say “Leave It to Beaver” dropped acid and truth serum and then divulged their souls. That maybe comes closer but doesn’t quite capture it because while “All Night Long” is riotously funny in a dark, twisted way, it’s also deeply moving and profound.
This is a story of what’s happening beneath the surface of a family, the hatred, the lust, the fears, the rivalries but instead of simmering in the subtext - they become both the absurd physical and textual world.
The art of the production, led by director Jan Munroe and a brilliant ensemble of actors, is that they manage to keep this bizarre world profoundly grounded. The temptation to play this script for nothing but the laughs is a tantalizing trap. There’s the sitcom applause track, the sound score that feels almost vaudevillian at times, a set with so many tricks up its sleeve, and, yes, that spit take - did I mention it’s a Jello spit take? Blue jello. While this cast fully embodies the comedy of the piece, they also manage to give it a deep soul that makes “All Night Long” heartbreaking.
This is acting where you appreciate not only the emotional journey but the technical virtuosity: the mercurial shifts from one reality to another in the middle of line with deep commitment.
Now, this isn’t a piece for everyone. If you like your narrative linear and need to know what’s happening and why at every moment - stay away.
If on the other hand, you’ve wondered if your younger sister might really be a robot or that the traditional gender roles surrounding domesticity might actually be a haunted prison trapping you in an untenable life filled with terror and absurdity - well, this play is perfect for you.
And if you just really appreciate virtuosic acting and directing and want to see a good blue Jello spit take - you shouldn’t miss it either.
“All Night Long” plays at the Open Fist Theatre Company in Atwater Village through October 21st.
John Patrick Daly, Phillip William Brock, Cat Davis, Alina Phelan, Caroline Klidonas. Photo credit: Darrett Sanders. Courtesy of Lucy Pollack PR