The world premiere of Holding Pattern, a new play written by Nicole Quenelle and directed by Both Hands Theatre Company co-artistic director Cheryl Chamblee, is an entertaining, if sometimes repetitive, experimental drama set in a psychic junkyard, with piles of worn-out automobile tires providing most of the topography and Jonathan Blackwell’s delightful drawings of crude cartoon characters — they look like primitive caveman versions, complete with genitalia, of characters from Matt Groening’s animated sitcom “The Simpsons” — decorating the walls of Manbites Dog Theater in Durham, NC. The show, which finishes its two-week run on Nov. 15-17, is the first show of Both Hands’ “Speak for Yourself Season” and part of Manbites Dog’s “Other Voices Series.”
Nicole Quenelle’s off-the-wall characters, very colorfully attired in flashy cirque-like costumes cleverly devised by costume designer Allyn Meredith (with costume-build assistance by Carolyn Chamblee), inhabit a sort of Purgatory (or Limbo) that they cannot leave as they repeatedly rehash — and try to transcend — a series of nasty bumps that they have encountered on the rocky road to happiness.
Meredith Sause, on roller skates, is cute as a bug as The Girl Who Blows Bubbles. In order to escape Purgatory, she tells her pitiable life story, over and over, until she marshals the courage to climb over and through the ring of discarded tires that serves as a wall to the prison that she inhabits.
Thomas “TeKay” King displays just the right amount of hauteur, disdain for the dilemma of The Girl Who Blows Bubbles, and barely suppressed desperation as The Man Who Eats Nuts. He, too, is an inmate in a psychic prison largely of his own creation. He even retires to a wheelchair to circumambulate the stage rather than pad around on his own two feet.
The Man Who Plays Accordion Tunes (Laurie Wolf) cannot seem to complete a single song as he struggles ham-handedly with a balky accordion and other irksome impediments and distractions. Wolf demonstrates a well-honed sense of physical comedy as she fusses and fumes — or bangs her way with a giant hammer — through a series of life’s most annoying inconveniences.
Meanwhile, The Chorus According to Bubbles (Byron Jennings II, Beth Popelka, and Thaddaeus Edwards) provides quirky commentary throughout the proceedings, while mainly dogging The Girl Who Blows Bubbles. Joined together hand-to-hand, the strange threesome forms a unique pushmi-pullyu type of creature, a la the wonderful world of Dr. Dolittle.
Director Cheryl Chamblee demonstrates a fine sense of the absurd in staging this offbeat comedy. Holding Pattern may be much ado about nothing, or next to nothing; but it makes for a rib-tickling evening for adventurous Triangle theatergoers. Lighting designers Rachel Zielinski and Joey Yow and properties master Lance Waycaster also deserve kudos for their considerable contributions throughout the show.
Both Hands Theatre Company presents Holding Pattern Thursday-Friday, Nov. 15-16, at 8:15 p.m.; and Saturday, Nov. 17, at 7 and 9:30 p.m.; at Manbites Dog Theater, 703 Foster St., Durham, North Carolina. $12 Thursday and Sunday and $17 Friday and Saturday, except pay-what-you-can preview ($5 minimum) on Nov. 8th and $8 Student Rush tickets with ID. 919/682-3343 or click here. Both Hands Theatre Company: http://www.myspace.com/bothhandstheatre. Manbites Dog Theater: http://www.manbitesdogtheater.org/218/.