Theater Review: ‘Big Death’ makes lasting impact

The UH/Catastrophic Theatre collaboration Big Death and Little Death is a tragic tale whose theme is slowly revealed, but characteristic of a riddle hidden within an enigma.

Written by Mickey Birnbaum in 2000 and directed by Jason Nodler of the Catastrophic Theatre, the play depicts events occurring in the life of a family shortly after the return of the patriarch from combat in the first Gulf War. Its theme seems to promote an abysmal worldview in the lives of the family members that leads to ultimate tragedy.

The family members and those around them are maligned with different mental and behavioral problems, and the play’s central tragic event – spotlighted throughout the play – is followed by a cataclysmic finale.

The "Dad" (Walt Zipprian) is a returned veteran of the Gulf War. Apparently suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, he seems to find it difficult to adjust to normal civilian life and spends his time photographing accident scenes and talking about death in war and civil life. He also seems to suspect that his son and his son’s friend may be gay.

Gary (John DeLoach) is the son, who is a troubled youth who spends time meeting with his high school counselor. They make a connection and begin an inappropriate sexual relationship.Gary’s sister Kristi (Mikelle Johnson) maintains a cynical view of the world as being basically hopeless. She tries to connect with her brother and father and even keeps an album of her father’s accident photographs. She despises her mother for having an extra-marital affair while her dad was at war.

The "Mom," is a relatively homely woman who obviously loves her husband and displays a positive attitude about the war, but decides to reveal her illicit relationship to him as the family drives home immediately after his return.

Harley (Noel Bowers) is Gary’s friend. He loves heavy-metal rock music and Gary’s sister with an almost equal passion.

He does not want to offend Gary as he pursues the possibility of a relationship with Kristi. Gary proves to be the most "normal" character in the play.

Miss Endor (Elisa Levitt) is Gary’s high school counselor. She shares a love of certain heavy-metal bands with Gary and also reveals to him a troubled family background of her own. Her misjudgment allows her to begin a sexual relationship with Gary.

The set design cleverly and elaborately fuses an accident scene, a living room in which the couch occasionally doubles as the family’s car, Gary’s car where he and Miss Endor make their frequent rendezvous, the counselor’s office and bedrooms.

DeLoach gives a great portrayal of a young slacker who is besieged with problems of drug use and difficult and inappropriate personal relationships.

Zipprian gives a convincing performance of an anguished and mentally troubled veteran. After he was drugged later in the play his portrayal of his intoxication was good.

Levitt was exceptional in her portrayal of Miss Endor. She was able to display the internal conflict of a woman torn between her better judgment and her sexual desires.

Johnson gave a strong performance as Kristi displaying a cynical and troubled young woman.

Bowers gives a good portrayal of Harley as a stoner/heavy-metal fan who is a likable and gentle character that faces initial unrequited love from his friend’s sister.

Big Death and Little Death will run at the UH Jose Quintero Lab Theatre at 8 p.m. through Sunday.

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