Funny, poignant play centers on devilish drumming

[Woody’s Rating: ★★★★★

Bonding in the desert are (from left) Ray, aka Stingray (Richard Pallaziol), Neil, aka Professor (Nick Sholley), Adam, aka Bull (Anthony Martinez) and Charlie, aka Chick (Chris Schloemp). Photo by Katie Kelley.

David Templeton isn’t shy about his new comedy.

In a recent email to colleagues who might review the show, he wrote that “Drumming with Anubis” is “in many ways…the funniest, weirdest, scariest and most honest play I have ever written.”

Bingo!

Templeton’s 90-minute take on male-bonding, life, death and keeping drum and heartbeats rhythmically pounding is no less than brilliant — one of those rare creations that makes me laugh one minute and weep the next.

It begins with a quartet of midlife metal-music fans — self-styled “friends of Anubis,” the dog-headed Egyptian lord of death and embalming — camping out in the Southern California wasteland (after shelling out $1,500 each for the privilege) when the god himself drunkenly crashes their party and annual rituals.

What ensues in the first act is a virtual laugh riot, filled with songs that lampoon machismo mind-sets as well as military motifs.

But the rampant humor in both acts is so well integrated into “Anubis” that any attempt on my part to reproduce it here, out of context, would be a disservice to the playwright. It would be vastly better if you tried to catch one of the few remaining performances — even if it means driving an hour or so.

That recommendation also applies to women, despite the play being all about defining what a man is. My wife, who’s never been particularly attracted to macho males (real or faux), thoroughly enjoyed the production.

Act II, meanwhile, emphasizes poignancy and nuanced character alterations likely to make a theatergoer — male or female — take a look inside to find if his or her veneer is slipping.

Audiences tend to like when characters change, particularly when they soften; that happens in spades in Santa Rosa’s intimate, 60-seat Left Edge Theatre.

Templeton should know how easy it is for a critic like me to take potshots at a playwright, director or ensemble cast — after all, he was theater reviewer for The Bohemian weekly for 16 years. But his email shows an unflappable confidence in his world premiere.

His self-assurance is warranted.

Not only don’t I have a weapon (even a pea-shooter) handy, I don’t need one: If there are faults with the production, they’re so well hidden I couldn’t spot them.

Each of the six actors eclipsed any expectations I might have brought with me — especially kilt-wearing Chris Schloemp’s masterful injection of over-the-top comic body antics and facial contortions as Charlie, self-designated leader, and Mark Bradbury’s supernatural touch of evil as “the new bitch.”

David L. Yen, who readily admits to having participated in drumming circles, couldn’t have been a better choice as director.

He ensures that the ensemble cast’s timing is pinpoint perfect, its use of stage space and props likewise, that each character’s character is immediately delineated, and that the show’s pacing as a whole can’t be improved.

Although Josh Tree, famed and deceased rock drummer who founded the degenerating desert group, never appears onstage, the icon’s an integral part of the plotline. As are his ashes. As is the “big stick” he safeguarded, an icon of a different kind that gives the ritualistic possessor the power to speak.

Tree’s widow, Nicky (portrayed piquantly by Ivy Rose Miller),doesappear — and denies having been a trophy wife while vigorously defending herself against the boys club for being a successful female.

Fears, however, are a crucial, marvelously woven-in element of the play.

As are Templeton’s one-line witticisms and wisdom that sometimes blend. As in, “Don’t pee on a cactus if you can’t see it.”

The playwright, not incidentally, isn’t above repeating a gag for heightened laughs, as when the rules-keeper reads a legal phrase protecting the 501c3 copyrights (and royalties) of their ritualistic gobbledygook.

The play delves into multiple things: cancer, chanting, testicles, feminism, family, loss, homosexuality, knives, secrets, the “Benediction of Noise” and the “Brutal Tribunal of Doom.”

Plus drumming, drumming and more drumming.

But ultimately it’s all about heart — about how it can be broken, how it can be cut from a body, and how it can end up being light (in more than one sense of the word).

“Drumming with Anubis” will play at the Left Edge Theatre, Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa, through June 30. Night performances, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturdays; matinees, 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets: $25 to $40. Information: https://www.leftedgetheatre.com or 707-546-3600. 

Contact Woody Weingarten, a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, at www.vitalitypress.com/or voodee@sbcglobal.net.

About the Author

Woody WeingartenWoody Weingarten, who can be reached at www.vitalitypress.com/ or voodee@sbcglobal.net, can’t remember when he couldn’t talk — or play with words. His first poem was published in high school but when his hormones announced the arrival of adulthood, he figured he’d rather eat than rhyme. So he switched to journalism. And whadda ya know, the bearded, bespectacled fella has used big, small and hyphenated words professionally since jumpstarting his career in New Yawk City more than 60 years ago. Today the author of the book “Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner’s breast cancer” is also a reviewer-critic, blogger and publisher — despite allegedly being retired. During his better-paid years as a wage slave he was an executive editor and writer for daily and weekly publications in California, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York. He won writing awards for public service and investigation, features, columns, editorials and news. Woody also has published weekly and monthly newspapers, and written a national column for “Audio” magazine. A graduate of Colgate University, he owned a public relations/ad agency and managed an advertising publication. The father of two and grandfather of three, he and his wife, Nancy Fox, have lived in San Anselmo in Marin County for three decades. He figures they'll stay.View all posts by Woody Weingarten →

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