Odessa by John Tyler McClain. Review by Jenny Lower. This review first appeared on www.stageraw.com
In this world premiere written by John Tyler McClain and directed by Carly D. Weckstein, Earth Up Top is a post-apocalyptic wasteland, the casualty of an unspecified disaster that has left bottles of Clean scarce. Below ground, Alice (the marvelous Joanna Bateman), wearing a tattered blue dress, tends her plants and practices the waltz, awaiting the return of Cliff (Bruce A. Lemon, Jr.), with whom she barters sexual favors in exchange for Clean. Their tenuous existence is upended by the capture of Preacher (Bethany Esfandiari), who turns Alice’s head with tales of Odessa, a survivors’ enclave, sparking a power struggle with Cliff.
Alana Cheuvront’s costumes infuse a gritty realism with just the right touch of whimsy, while the lighting — worklights-on-wheels operated by the actors and able to swing around as required — create the illusion of intimacy interrupted by glaring harshness. Bateman’s performance dances on a line between delicacy of feeling and barminess, strengthening the allusions to Alice in Wonderland (originally titled Alice’s Adventures Under Ground). Bateman isn’t matched by her costars, however; Esfandiari seems as though she hasn’t quite committed to the unscrupulous rambler’s brutish philosophy. But despite threatening to be unremittingly dark, under Weckstein’s direction the script evokes surprising humor and even a glimmer of redemption.
The Illyrian Players Theatre Company at Theatre Asylum Lab, 6230 Santa Monica Blvd.