'Remnant' explores Christmas mysteries
The Mustard Seed Theatre is chartered to explore works concerning faith and social justice. As their Christmas offering they have opened a revival of "Remnant", which they produced just ten years ago in their first season. The play, by Ron Reed, is a strange piece full of odd beauties. It explores the mystery of Christmas in a world struggling to breathe new life into the embers of this ancient holy day which has been almost forgotten. Deanna Jent once again directs the production.
The play is set in a dystopian St. Louis of the future. We enter a fiercely fortified compound of the Wilkin clan. We meet Barlow Sho'r who is violently protective of his family and his territory. We meet his wife, Delmar Nu1, and Annagail Bookr and Kristn Taler (sisters? cousins?). They are preparing for the celebration of Christ Mass. But they barely know how to do it.
Many years ago a great plague decimated the world. A select few, guided by a vision, made their escape to KANE-sas in a "Great Leaving". After a few generations and significant "bornings" of holy people the clan returned in a "Great Restoring," led to the "silver rainbow" of the Arch.
Now this harsh world is divided among the clan, the threatening "Bikers" outside, and some few "Loners" who survive on the margins of society. The family gets by on what can be scrounged from the technical detritus of the lost civilization of the Old Ones. They've scraped together enough to make a weird semblance of Christmas decorations.
Their speech is a strange futuristic dialect of English--with oddly used words, inverted sentence structure and other eccentricities--a bit like the "Nadsat" jargon in Clockwork Orange. It takes a while to get used to it.
Each character embodies a certain function: Barlow (played by Ryan Lawson-Maeske is the warrior and protector; Delmar Nu1 (Marissa Grice) is his helpmeet; Katy Keating plays Annagail Bookr who (as her name implies) is the supplier and reader of what few books may be found; and Kristn Taler (Michelle Hand) is the teller of tales--the religious myths which have arisen and which are part of their Christ Mass celebration. Into this tightly bonded group comes a mysterious Loner (Adam Flores) who may or may not even have a name. Fierce hostility instantly flames between the men--one dressed as an urban guerrilla, the other in science-fictiony menacing black leather. There is a definite Mad Max-ish feeling to this whole world. But the women urge peace and the stranger is allowed to stay as the play explores the mystery of who this Loner is--and what indeed is the meaning of this great mystery--Christ Mass.
The bizarre NewSpeak is a problem. It's not always easy to follow what's being said--especially since the black-box theater has been stripped to its bare wooden walls. That gives a cruelly hard acoustic. All the players do strong work, but alone among them Michelle Hand makes herself truly at home in the language.
Ms. Hand is also quite spell-binding in the Tales she tells so ritualistically. Here she has an advantage since the tales are written in almost the same English we speak today. I suppose this is appropriate--just as today we commonly relate our old Christmas myths in Jacobean English.
Marissa Grice brings warmth and brave charity to the role of Delmar and Katy Keating makes a charming and eccentric Bookr with nice touches of humor.
The set, by Kristin Cassidy, is a wonder of eclectic bits and pieces. I do feel that the use of so much space (the entire theater, with balconies at both ends) robs the piece of any sense of claustrophobia, which would have added much. Costumer Jane Sullivan clothes this strange world perfectly, and Michael Sullivan's lighting is, as usual, very fine.
The script itself has flaws. The revelation about the Loner's identity is quite predictable. This is ("Spoiler Alert!") a science fiction play about the Second Coming. The playwright, Ron Reed, is the founder of Ron Reed Ministries, and I'm afraid the mission of those ministries lies a bit heavily on the script.
For the past four years Mustard Seed has offered the beautiful a capella musical "All is Calm" as a Christmas production. In those four years I've seen "All is Calm" eight times (never as a reviewer). "Remnant", though an excellent production, is unlikely to draw the packed houses that always awaited "All is Calm".