As someone frequently amused by alarmist TV news teasers like “Could your drinking water be polluted? Details at eleven!”. So I was intrigued by the concept underlying Constant State of Panic, Madcap Players’ world premiere of Patrick Gabridge’s play. The impact of our current climate of fear on a psychologically fragile man and his loving wife is an apt vehicle for a dark comedy. While the humor works well, thanks to the playwright’s clever wit and imaginative use of surreal touches, the lack of character development and a wildly uneven tone reveal Constant State of Panic as more an interesting work in progress than a polished play.
Dave Tamzah (Paul McLane) is fearful of such things as microwave radiation, biologic threats, violent attacks, and electronic surveillance, to name a few. The play gets off to a rousing start thanks to McLane’s convincing paranoia, a succession of comic scares drawn straight from today’s headlines, and some creative breaches of conventional reality. Egged on by a TV reporter (Tori Miller) who hints that everything could be a “fiendish act of terrorism” and a visiting Department of Homeland Security home inspection agent (Aidan Hughes), Dave is a panicky, perspiring mess.
Upon the entry of Dave’s wife Sonia (Carleen R. Troy), however, the play starts to lose its unity. The loving foundation of Dave and Sonia’s relationship is never established. She’s angry the first time we see her, telling Dave about the “piss poor day” she has had, a description that is surprising once we learn of the day’s major domestic development. Her mood seems to bounce up and down at the convenience of the moment.
Indeed, the major problem with the work is its inconsistencies. While Troy is a convincing dramatic actress, the domestic drama is often rendered in far too serious a manner to fit the absurdist and comedic elements of the play. Similarly, Dave is soon accused of a horrific act which seems unnecessarily harsh for the purposes of the story. Dave, we learn, evidently has a history of paranoiac breakdown yet the story treats it as a brand new development, which makes Dave and Sonia’s relationship even more inexplicable.
Constant State of Panic is frequently funny, thanks to McLane and, in particular, to Miller, who makes the most of her scenes as the television reporter and an unseen religious solicitor. Director Gary Raymond Fry, Jr. keeps the energy high and orchestrates some interesting stagecraft. But the story ultimately turns on whether Dave and Sonia will be able to preserve their relationship and build a family, and the script does little to make their relationship seem convincing or the couple worth rooting for.
Constant State of Panic
by Patrick Gabridge
directed by Gary Raymond Fry, Jr.
produced by Madcap Players
reviewed by Steven McKnight
Nelson Pressley . The Post