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The Early Miracle

by Rich See

It don't matter where you get your appetite. Just so long as you come home to eat.
---Chris Stezin as Junior Bunch explaining his father's views about life

Chris Stezin and Hope Lambert
C. Stezin and H. Lambert

Satirizing American life in general, and TV news, organized religion, rural hicks, southerners, Christianity, and small town life in particular, Charter Theatre's The Early Miracle is a bit of fluffy fun done with a tongue-in-cheek wink at the audience. Picking up where tabloid papers might leave off, playwright Lew Holton has written a witty and entertaining script that centers on the "miracle" that occurs when a tornado decimates the Fairview Trailer Park in the little town of Early, South Carolina.

Poor 81-year old Charlie Stokes has died and Junior and June Bunch's pit bulls, Ace and Gene, have been blown away; but exotic dancer Janet Sue Atkins' trailer has been left standing. While the tornado ripped apart every building in the area, it simply placed a statue of the Virgin Mary on top of Janet Sue's trailer. Soon news crews, religious fanatics, and curiosity seekers are making a pilgrimage to the trailer park for a look at Janet Sue's icon of the Blessed Virgin. And it's at this point the fun begins as Janet Sue's life begins to unravel under the scrutiny of media glare, small town gossip, visiting Europeans, and get-rich-quick schemers. By the end Holton has tied together all the diverse story lines and peppered the script with several memorable funny lines while asking: Just what makes a miracle? Does it need to be of epic, attention getting proportions? Or can it be subtle, like the shifting of the breeze?

Director Rachel Gardner Bridges has utilized Charter's new home in Flashpoint's Mead Theatre Lab to its full advantage. Working with a quirky script she's incorporated the tight fit of the black box to add additional humor to the staging. Kerrie Brown's costumes are perfect to create the individual characters -- the hard rock music fanatics with their Kiss t-shirts and matching 80's-style hair, guidance counselor Mr. Boger's tight suit, and hairdresser Vickie's plastic perm bonnet and mustache remover flesh out the spare set. Set Designer Keith Bridges' small, slightly raked stage is made to look like a tornado has just blown through with various household items, papers, and rubbish scattered around. It looks disoriented, much like the aftermath of a twister. Audio Designer Vincent A. Simonette has really excelled at finding background music to fit the mood. Whether it's Mike and the Mechanics' "All I Need Is A Miracle", Madonna's "Rescue Me" or "Like A Prayer" he has done an outstanding job at finding the perfect song for the occasion.

The cast does an exceedingly good job of adjusting to the small space, especially since the play requires constant quick changes for each of the three actors to portray the 16 characters. Ray Ficca moves easily from "News at Five" roving reporter Charlotte to Magel Atkins (Janet Sue's mother), to French diplomat Louis. The various hand movements, gestures, and looks he adds to each of his characters is quite funny. Hope Lambert gives a sensitive portrayal in showing the maturing of Janet Sue, a young woman with a photographic memory, who dances nude and reads Proust. She adds a unique flair to her June Bunch and Vickie the hairdresser characters as well -- one is all beer and hard rock, the other gossip and hair spray. Chris Stezin excels at the blue collar good old boy. As Arlo, he's a deluded cheating husband who's not too terribly bright. While his dog-obsessed, yet naïve, Junior Bunch is actually touching and cigarette dangling Father Lopez very humorous.

All in all, Charter Theatre's The Early Miracle is an enjoyable evening of good humored satire and silly fun.

The Early Miracle
by Lew Holton
Directed by Rachel Gardner Bridges
with Ray Ficca, Hope Lambert, Chris Stezin
Set Design: Keith Bridges
Lighting Design: Thom Seymour
Costume Design: Kerrie Brown
Sound Design: Vincent A. Simonette
Running Time: 2 hours with 1 intermission
A production of Charter Theatre
Flashpoint's Mead Theatre Lab, 916 G Street, NW, Washington, DC
Telephone: 202-333-7009
THU - SAT @8, SUN @ 3 & 7; $20-$25
Opening 02/25/04, closing 03/21/04
Reviewed by Rich See based on 02/28/04 performance

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