Boo Killebrew, Chinasa Ogbuagu, TJ Witham
and Jordan Barbour in The Deepest Play Ever
(© Colin D. Young)
Boo Killebrew, Chinasa Ogbuagu, TJ Witham
and Jordan Barbour in The Deepest Play Ever
(© Colin D. Young)
A heady mix of earnestness and tongue-in-cheek satire characterizes The Deepest Play Ever: The Catharsis of Pathos, presented by CollaborationTown at the New Ohio Theatre.

Geoffrey Decas O'Donnell's often amusing play is crammed full of literary allusions and pop culture references, and for the most part, directors Lee Sunday Evans and Jordan Seavey know when to play up the dramatic elements of the script, and when to take things less seriously.

The two primary sources of inspiration for the show (seen in a previous version at the 2006 New York International Fringe Festival) are Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children and Christopher Marlowe's The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus. But there's also Shakespeare and Greek Tragedy -- as well as zombies.

Set in the future, during the post-post-Apocalypse, the story follows Mother LaMadre (Chinasa Ogbuagu) and her children KitKat (Boo Killebrew) and Golden Calf (a puppet manipulated by Nick Choksi), who travel across battle-scarred fields searching for the last remaining books not destroyed by the Evil Empire.

Joining them for various stages of their journey are the librarian Swiss Cheese (TJ Witham), the former prostitute Yvette LaGuerre (Emily Walton), the accursed Quinapalos (Jordan Barbour), and the zombie hunter Crocothemis (Choksi).

The main villain is Dalvador Sali (performed by playwright O'Donnell), who has struck an unholy bargain with Mephistopheles (John Halbach, wielding a rather suggestively constructed puppet). The plot's a bit convoluted, but it boils down to the fact that Sali and his zombie army are building a deconstruction machine, an apt metaphor for O'Donnell's approach to his diverse source material.

The play is narrated by the personification of Time (Philip Taratula), and told in Epic Theatre fashion, complete with actors reading placards that announce what will happen in each scene prior to the performance of it. There are also several songs composed by Michael Wells, which pastiche various styles including musical theater, doo wop, and opera.

Ogbuagu has a strong presence, and while she's not that great of a singer, she puts across her solo with a mocking self awareness of that fact. Killebrew infuses passion into the nonsense language that KitKat speaks, and is truly moving in a song lamenting the death of a character important to her, which is translated/sung to us by one of the onstage musicians.

Clocking in at two-and-a-half hours, the production is too long for its own good. The premise gets wearying after awhile, and there are stretches that drag. Still, it's exciting to see a work that is this ambitious, and performed by a game cast that commits fully to the often absurd action of the play.