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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 28, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 04
Linguist Mages fun, futuristic, and funny
Arts & Entertainment
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Linguist Mages fun, futuristic, and funny

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Duel of the Linguist Mages
Annex Theatre
Through February 19


It's another battle of the century at Annex Theatre, where Scotto Moore has just directed another of his science-fantasy plays, Duel of the Linguist Mages. Moore's plays like to explore 'big ideas' with not-too-far-in-the-future scientific advancements - which often threaten humanity's very existence. This time, scientists have distilled parts of speech down to an essential sound 'morpheme' and then found a way to imbue that sound with content well beyond just the sound. This 'power morpheme' is then used to influence people into essentially a brainwashed state.

Initially used as a persuasion device by an advertising company, a mad woman (Jen Moon as Olivia Regan) decides she wants to rule the world as 'pure thought' and perverts the science by 'weaponizing' the power morphemes. No hearing person is safe! The duel part is because her erstwhile business partner (Curtis Eastwood as Bradford Jenning) has developed his own abilities with music to combat what he perceives as her descent into madness.

The sound and fury are adeptly portrayed by sound and music designs of Christopher Overstreet and Kevin Nortness. The actors open their mouths in threatening gestures and stand poised to strike as the cacophony spills around the audience. A simple but elegant set by Maridee Slater gives the immediate sensation of a futuristic office environment, with a huge disc-like platform entry at the back of the stage. Light design by Tess Malone reflects the dueling moments, setting off 'normal life' nicely by adjusting lighting. The effect of all this on the production is a satisfying blend of tricks to make the fantasy feel real. Clearly director Scotto Moore has a strong vision of making the playwright's work come to life, and succeeds.

This is also a funnier play than Moore has presented in the past, with a touch more 'cartoon' humor. It allows the audience to laugh at the threat, even as the concept of science developing a way to influence us beyond our ability to defend ourselves is explored as a danger.

The structure starts with a hapless scientist (James Weidman as Nate Wells) narrating his involvement in stops and starts of a sort of documentary or diary of events. He shows how his own interest in sounds is perverted after being hired into this company, and inadvertently contributing to the possible destruction of the human race. He meets a brainwashed scientist (Sara Mountjoy-Pepka as Maddy) who doesn't know she is being sent on covert missions by the mad woman at night. She just knows she's tired all the time. There's also a power-mad governor (Beth Peterson) and a research test subject (Raymond Williams) who turns out to be Olivia Regan's son.

The actors do a great job presenting all this as serious business, even as they find the comedic rhythms. Mountjoy-Pepka is a sympathetic dupe, and you root for her to find love with Wells. Eastwood finally gets to play a sympathetic (mostly) character after a series of bad guys in similar plays. Moon is a satisfying bitch, though not letting go into the madness as much as she probably could. Weidman is great as the square-jawed do-gooder determined to save the earth.

The last five minutes or so of the play do not resolve the story well, at all, and that could possibly be because playwright Moore didn't have another supportive eye on the production as a director. It does kind of end with a clunk. However, the rest of the couple of hours is certainly enjoyable and interesting, so letting go of the end isn't that hard. Moore's writing is a high-caliber, his dialogue and plot devices are smart, his concepts are clearly inventive. He's one to watch, so this is recommended.

For more information, go to www.annextheatre.org or call 206-728-0933.

Comments on reviews go to sgncritic@gmail.com.

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