Moxie Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Boulevard, Suite N, Rolando
$20 - $30
“None of us is who we are when we’re at home,” observes orange-haired Nut, recalling a childhood where she distrusted her father, a war hero, and didn’t fit into a young woman’s traditional identity. As she looks back on her life, she has two regrets: “I didn’t ask…” and “I didn’t cry.”
When her father, Julius, fought in Vietnam, no one told him Agent Orange was more than a chemical herbicide. It attacked not only the immune system of vegetation but also of people. When he came home his body began to implode. The government denied culpability — for years — so the aches and chronic weariness must be all in his mind. Then came intestinal cancer.
As Julius loses his identity, Nut finds hers. She grows to accept her differences, which fit no single cubbyhole, and grows in time to accept her father. But how to find out who he was — and how to reconnect?
She envisions herself in movie flashbacks, fighting with Julius in a Vietnam jungle. Even when the midday sky becomes a sunset, there’s a low rumbling, and reddish-orange, spider-like objects float down.
Basil Kreimendahl’s world-premiere play, Orange Julius, packs a lot in a little. The piece runs 75 minutes and is relentlessly non-linear. It jumps or morphs from mini-scene to mini-scene so quickly that basic information’s hard to grasp. Nut is seven; Nut is 22; Nut is 12 or 13 (she’s not sure). The author eventually links the fragments. But the antsy method forces spectators to readjust their bearings, at the expense of what the next scene’s already doing.
The poetical method works as a reverie, but can get in its own way. For Moxie Theatre, Will Davis’ direction is also poetical, verging on ethereal. Though quite imaginative, at times the staging adds to the confusion.
Two excellent performances help register time and place. Rae K. Henderson’s understated Nut must flit through various ages and emotional states in a heartbeat. Nut’s growth — albeit circumlocutory — remains constant and a useful guide to where we are.
Jeffrey Jones can add Julius to his triumph as Neil in Intrepid Theatre’s The Quality of Life. Both characters are dying of cancer. Neil’s become a sage; Julius an ever-dimming light. Jones is eloquent with both.
Orange Julius develops a sub-theme — how to cope with the dying — skillfully. When a loved one nears the end, there are no rehearsals for how the living should behave. People go out of character, often in strange, excitable ways. Moxie’s supporting cast (Wendy Maples, Steve Froehlich, and especially Dana Case as Julius’ grieving wife France) highlights various, even conflicting, reactions.
At first glance, Victoria Petrovich’s set looks incomplete: bare stage, piles of detritus, and a five-panel rear wall. After a while, as with one of his paintings, the panels look like five gray Rothko’s: much more there than meets the eye. Jennifer Brawn Gittings’ costumes develop characters unobtrusively. Emily Jankowski’s sound and Jason Bieber’s lighting (which may rank among the most cue-rich plots in Moxie history) combine for the production’s most eerie effect — a sudden flash and gorgeous orangey glow the government will claim could never harm a vet.