If a bear dances in the woods, will a teacher find true love?
Berserker, on stage now at Alleyway Theatre, is full of similar existential questions, with a killer Led Zeppelin soundtrack, too.
This was a 2019 Maxim Mazumdar New Play Competition winner for good reason. Playwright Bruce Walsh created a quirky, complex, endearing set of characters in a multi-layered love story with some interesting twists.
Pete Green (Patrick Cameron) is a teacher who set off to hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail, leaving his lady (not his wife, we hear repeatedly) Vicky (Kelly Copps) at home. They share a home, a daughter, and a profession, and this brief respite doesn’t seem foreboding. While Vicky is relishing some quiet time listening to Chopin, Pete is spooked when he sees a bear. And then he wanders off-trail onto private property and is spooked a second time when he hears a voice coming from the birdfeeder/trail cam, first singing Zeppelin’s 1969 megahit “Whole Lotta Love” and then admonishing him for trespassing onto private property. Seems he’s stumbled onto the grounds of LeiberCraft, a multiplayer gaming platform tech company. He’s intrigued by the voice in the birdhouse. They faux-flirt around their shared Led-Head obsession until she finally directs him off-grounds. Back home with Vicky, he decides to leave his traditional classroom gig to pursue a teaching job with one student – the LeiberCraft founding 12 year old gaming wizard named Mason – and perhaps a spark a relationship with Soojin the voice in the birdfeeder (Sara Kow-Falcone), the corporate attorney who signs him to the gig. This is the start of the real love story; between teacher and student, and between music-lovers who get swept away, and between a boy and a bear and fast-food left overs.
Director Robyn Lee Horn got her casting exactly right with this group. Cameron is wonderfully focused as the bear-phobic teacher in heart and mind turmoil and in charge of the frenetic Mason (Haleigh Curr).
Curr’s physical comedy is outstanding, scaling a desk to back-bend off it seconds later. Blurting out expletives in one minute, and then pensively pondering the next-level thinking behind why Pete is using Beowulf as a lesson. Curr is an amazing young talent cast in a pretty extraordinary role.
Kow-Falcone is fierce-tender as Soojin the lawyer with a compelling backstory that sneaks into the plot in bits and pieces. Copps as Vicky, the non-wife and mother to Pete’s daughter, is gentle and strong as she moves on with her life while Pete makes other choices. Watch her face and her body language: her subtle gestures are as in-your-face as a Robert Plant falsetto.
The technical team did a masterful job in staging this work. Emma Schimminger’s lighting scheme complemented Collin Ranney’s three-place set beautifully with some fun surprises. Nicholas Quinn designed a great soundscape that reminded that Zeppelin’s “All Of My Love” is still my favorite.
Full disclosure: I didn’t love the ending. I felt the last five minutes or so spun an incredible plot into some odd places. Hey, not-quite-mid-life crises happen, and they aren’t all weird. Up to that point, the story was a unique and powerful examination of the power of music to attract and influence our decisions and choices. And that love and belief in someone else can change lives. Or to put it in Zeppelin-speak,”there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run, there’s still time to change the road you’re on.”
Berserker runs two hours with a 15-minute intermission, on stage to April 23. When you visit www.alleyway.com to book your seats, click over to www.alleyway.com/education to learn more about a powerful student engagement on April 20, #Enough Plays to End Gun Violence, and Buffalo’s role in this national effort.