The October Night of Johnny Zero
Oh, what fun: Backyard Renaissance artistic director Francis Gerke has given us a brand new play that looks back at the ‘80s the way the ‘80s might have looked back at the ‘40s. You couldn’t set this story in the present, because then you’d lose The Phone: a tan plastic wall-mounted job — well, it used to be mounted — with a cord and cracked handset and a finicky way of not working when it’s needed. It’s damaged, this phone: the duct tape is enough to tell you that, along with the fact that it’s propped on the floor, not far from the stainless steel bowl that’s been set out to catch the drips dropping during the thunderstorm that has brought high school basketball star Johnny Grimes into the Pinnolini home. It seems Franky P. is his biggest fan — pictures on the wall and everything — so he’s happy to let Johnny call for a ride, as long as mother Barbara doesn’t catch them spending a quarter to call information first. Make that three quarters…and down comes Barbara, wondering what’s the fuss and where’s the Chablis.
Gerke has written a gangbuster part for his wife Jessica John, and she throws herself into it like a dog chewing at its leash, all frustration and funny, frenetic energy. Barbara is trapped trapped trapped: by her past, by her pain, by her poverty, by her motherhood, and oh yes, by that Phone, the one she’s been stuck waiting by for…well, let’s not spoil things.
And happily, it’s not just the Barbara Show: if she’s a dog on a leash, bad penny Franky is a puppy trying not to drown before it makes it back to the bank. He ain’t right, but he’s not wrong, either. And Johnny isn’t just the normie audience’s introduction to this domestic prison, nor even merely the catalyst for conflict. There’s a reason he can’t bring himself to just leave, even if the house is haunted. Maybe fun isn’t the precise word here, but there’s an undeniable element of entertainment in amid the pathos and pain.
Ongoing until Sunday, December 4, 2022