Sheila Callaghan gets the current zeitgeist in New York right. Her new play, Roadkill Confidential, now playing at 3 LD Technology Center and directed by Kip Fagan, scavenges from the rubbage heaps of noir iconology, Hitchcock, De Palma, Bergman, maybe even Tina Howe’s Museum (recall the bizarre, unseen artist Agnes Vaag in that play scouring the underbrush of the woods to slurp the marrow of animal skeletons). No mere copyist, though, Callaghan has a vision that is clear, individual, and hard as the marble her leading character, Trevor (Rebecca Henderson), claims as artistic capital. This is a smart writer unafraid of blood, someone a gore-fest director like George A. Romero, also interested in societal commentary from behind a horror façade, could have used (if he ever had a budget). In a monologue from Callaghan’s play Tumor, a young woman dreams of blood gushing from between her legs after having a Slurpie spilled on her in Macy’s; in Roadkill Confidential blood reminds us of the bucket in Carrie.
Having written for Showtime and been highlighted in the New Yorker, Callagan is part of 13P, Obie-winning writers who snubbed their noses at the way theatre companies gave lip service to but didn’t produce their plays. She’s also unafraid of offending the dramaturg—Callaghan’s lead—an artist provocateur–doesn’t change much during the course of Roadkill Confidential and is unlikeable (mean, thoughtless, self-absorbed). Callaghan doesn’t even mind bulldozing over the secondary characters (Polly Lee survives the onslaught artistically in a thankless role that, in a previous time, would have gone to Sandy Dennis). In the sticks and secondary routes of the seemingly effortless, jerry-rigged plot of Roadkill Confidential, the imperative inflation of one’s own work trumps morality—the play comes across as a nightmare induced from drinking too many Starbuck’s cappuccinos before bedtime. Forget thinking the artist would implicate herself in a procedural regarding the death of a student (with her own meat combines at stake); for that matter, forget assuming an investigator would directly ask her any questions as to her involvement. With the play’s passive components heightened to the level of the importance of our current wars, which flash before us on monitors at the start of the play, we wonder if anybody thinks of becoming an ordinary, work-a-day artist these days, as if celebrity—much less immortality–must be part of the definition.
Andy Warhol once told us that everyone would be famous for fifteen minutes; Callaghan’s posse wants longer, alone, and all at the same time.
I happened to attend the play with a friend I’d worked with on several jobs. She had just given notice at her current publishing gig. Burned out, totally stressed, she saw no room for growth within the company, had been placed into some kind of caste system where people in her department were told not to communicate with those in another, “more important,” area; employees were not being replaced, which only added to the already heavy workload; and the competition and backstabbing was getting worse, with the prospect of even more layoffs: In a New York that wasn’t fun anymore, with narcissism and desperation heightening in the rats remaining on board, she decided that checking out for Houston sounded just fine.
In Roadkill Confidential, Sheila Callaghan catches our era’s lack of apology; as unappealing as that might seem to some. To her, “If it moves you, you should touch it.” Actually, this is novel, given so many playwrights who refer to earlier eras in their work, who would rather be in the off-Broadway glory days of the ‘60s, ‘70s, and early ‘80s (not only working during those years, but thinking about issues with the sensibilities in which they were thought about then, too). Callaghan, however, doesn’t seem interested in any history other than what’s playing out right now—even if it does mean reflecting what’s caught in the headlights.
© 2010 by Bob Shuman
Photograph: Carl Skutsch
by Sheila Callaghan
directed by Kip Fagan
With Alex Anfanger, Rebecca Henderson, Polly Lee,
Danny Mastrogiorgio, and Greg McFadden
Sets by Peter Ksander
Costumes by Jessica Pabst
Lights by Jeanette Oi-suk Yew
Sound by Bart Fasbender
Video by Shaun Irons & Lauren Petty
Sculpture Design by Jessica Scott
Props by Miranda King
Critical acclaim for Sheila Callaghan’s plays
“[Callaghan’s] a gutsy writer with a gift for creating vivid images rooted in the emotional life of her characters.” ~ The New York Times on Crawl, Fade To White
“Wonderful…pleasingly witty…[Callaghan] writes with a world-weary tone and has a poet’s gift for economical description.” ~ The New York Times on Dead City
“Her manic, angry, deftly constructed That Pretty Pretty; or, The Rape Play whipsaws between laughs and squirms.” ~ TimeOut NY
Clubbed Thumb commissions, develops and produces funny, strange, and provocative new plays by living American writers. Since its founding in 1996, the company has presented plays in every form of development, including over 75 full productions. Clubbed Thumb has earned 4 OBIES and in May 2010 Producing Artistic Director Maria Striar was the recipient of an inaugural 2010 Lilly Award for artistic direction.
The cast includes Alex Anfanger, Rebecca Henderson, Polly Lee, Danny Mastrogiorgio and Greg McFadden.
The design and production team consists of Peter Ksander (Set Design), Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew (Lighting Design), Jessica Pabst (Costume Design), Bart Fasbender (Sound Design), Shaun Irons and Lauren Petty (Video Design) and Sunneva Stapleton (Stage Manager).
Praise for Clubbed Thumb
“Clubbed Thumb has more nerve, more guts, more class per square inch than any not-for-profit small theatre in New York.” ~ Paula Vogel
“[One] of the most inventive – and inventively named – downtown troupes.” ~ The New York Times
“Clubbed Thumb invariably matches provocative scripts with smart directors and savvy actors, and the results are rewarding for all.” ~ Paper Magazine, Tom Murrin and Ricky Spears
3LD Art & Technology Center creates and supports challenging large-scale art within a financially sustainable environment. Their goals are to create viable growth oriented business models for experimental art production, revitalize the experimental tradition in New York by improving the working conditions and quality of production, and foster a community of artists who work cooperatively and aggressively to address their own barriers. In order to achieve these goals, they create, re-distribute and re-imagine resources that drive core cost reduction while increasing capacity and revenue.
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