Review: Renegade’s phenomenal ‘Collapse’ looks at how we deal with the impossible

David (David Scott) and Hannah (Alika Ululani Spencer) are fighting to save their marriage in Renegade Theatre Experiment’s production of “Collapse,” through Sept. 29th in San Jose (Photo by Jeff Crook)

Two years ago, my wife and I had ourselves a little bout with insomnia. Up late on a Tuesday night with work hovering over us like a black cloud, a rerun of “Oprah” popped up on the telly. As wonderful as Oprah Winfrey’s show was, it was never recorded on our DVR; however, if it was on and some subject matter piqued our interest, it was often worth a watch.

As this particular episode began, we surely knew this would not be some simple, late night “you get a car” kind of show. Because what the show was about, for anyone who has children or a heart, was beyond unfathomable.

A mom with three children was in the family minivan on a busy freeway, while dad was at work. The couple’s three children were in the back seat after a day at the ferris wheel when suddenly, a cargo truck came around a blind curve and slammed into the van, killing the three children – two girls, ages four and two, and a boy, age five.

This is a pain that is absolutely unimaginable to grasp. As both my wife and I sat watching this story in horror, something clearly stood out to us, a reminder of the strength and courage of humanity in the absolute darkest of circumstances. It came in the form of a pact that both the mother and father had made to each other shortly after – they promised not to kill themselves.

The story I witnessed on Winfrey’s show a few years back was mirrored in a stunningly powerful production at Renegade Theatre Experiment in San Jose. Allison Moore’s “Collapse” is a marvel of a show featuring wonderful, emotionally demanding performances from a dazzling ensemble cast, which was, quite frankly, one of the best productions I’ve seen in the South Bay this year.

Hannah (Alika Ululani Spencer) and David (David Scott) are dealing with a common issue for many married couples – they are trying to conceive a baby. And it is no longer terribly spontaneous, but a process that has become exactly that – a process. Romance has probably been tried often, but now passionate love-making is now being replaced with less than pragmatic baby-making. You know, shots in the bare butt, fluid in a cup, rushing off to a doctor for another check of sperm levels, all in the hopes of a little bundle of joy. It just might be the key to bridging the emotional distance gap between the two.

There are also some wonderful mysteries that fill the story, as well as some delicately nuanced character quirks. In addition to David and Hannah’s struggles as a couple, Hannah is facing a firing from her law firm in the near future and David is dealing with his own personal hell of Post-traumatic stress disorder from being on Minneapolis’ I-35W Bridge when it collapsed in the summer of 2007. Since then, he drinks a lot and has been missing big chunks of work for some odd reason. Is he an alcoholic? Let’s just say it’s not a good sign when the plants are often as drunk as he is.

Thrown into the chaos of David and Hannah’s life is Hannah’s sister Susan (Sarah Luna), who shows up out of the blue on the doorstep ready to deliver a mysterious package to someone named “Bulldog.” Susan is not the most trustworthy of folks, often spilling secrets the way a child spills milk. But this time, she might be in over her head, agreeing to deliver this package of which she does not know the contents.

Director Caitlin McGarty does a skillful job of balancing Allison Moore’s delightfully funny script with genuine humor and pulsating pathos. The script is crafted where exposition is introduced organically, at the perfect time. Each discovery is shaped with just the right nuance and handled with dizzying skill amongst the four actors.

Spencer is masterful as the deeply conflicted Hannah. Her approach to the role was frenetic when it had to be, yet brooding and loaded with depth in other moments. Consider her few scenes Sean Murphy, in a masterful turn as the engaging and comforting sex addict Ted. Their work together in moments where her instincts and impulses had to lead her down a most unconventional path hit so many wonderful notes it could have been a symphony. That symphony was orchestrated on David Powell’s metaphoric set, which featured a large bridge that hovered over the proceedings. The bridge is a 24/7 reminder of what David struggles with and what he must conquer to become whole again.

Scott, Luna and Murphy all contributed greatly to the unity of the piece. Scott is an effective everyman full of empathy while Luna, who functioned as the zany character in many of the moments, helped to greatly balance the drama with the comic. And Murphy did some of his best work when he simply listened, allowing him to find many wonderful organic responses which creates a great chemistry.

But where the show hits its apex is in the final scene, not to be revealed here. All that needs to be said is that both Scott and Spencer more than delivered on some grueling emotional demands. Their work together as both Hannah and David reveal the roots of their personal and marital struggles with visceral beauty and raw emotion.

The husband and wife who lost their children worked hard to make sense of their life in the aftermath. And in a miraculous turn of events, through in vitro fertilization, the couple was pregnant with triplets a year later – two girls and a boy. Even though the deafening silence of empty hallways was replaced again with the joyous sounds of children’s laughter, it will never fully take away the pain. It is moments like these, and plays like “Collapse,” which allows us to examine how we deal with the impossible. When our lives are forced to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, light must continue to radiate somewhere within, or else we are doomed. And after a collapse takes place, we still must find the hope within our souls that forces us to stand up and keep fighting.

WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO

Renegade Theatre Experiment presents “Collapse”
Written by Allison Moore
Directed by Caitlin McGarty
The word: A wonderful cast and a script full of compelling discoveries makes this production a must see.
Stars: 5 out of 5
Through Sept. 29th
Tickets range from $10 – $25
The Hoover Theatre
1635 Park Avenue, San Jose, CA 95126
For tickets and information, call (408) 493-0783 or visit RTE’s official website.

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