Reviewed by Doc Lawrence
ATLANTA-Walker Percy remains one of the influential voices of Southern literature. One of his important books, Lost in the Cosmos was adapted for the stage by Tom Key and is now being performed at the amazing Balzer Theatre at Herren’s, home to Theatrical Outfit, which continues its mission of presenting the best stories from the South.
In partnership with Dad’s Garage Theatrical Company, Key’s adaptation, a consolidation of his strengths as a playwright, stays true to Percy, asking us to imagine earthlings transported to a faraway planet with intelligent life: Would they be accepted or banned as a threat to a more evolved universe?
To know Walker Percy’s works is to plunge into the adventure of existentialism, a literary and philosophical world commonly associated with the likes of Jean-Paul Satre and Simone de Beauvoir. Percy who spend a good deal of his youth in Athens, Georgia, has been described as a “Dixie Kierkegaard,” and until his death in 1990, was widely admired for the success of his novels that embodied one of the major tenants of existentialism as a driving concern for human freedom and the consequences that accompany efforts to attain it.
The last self-help seminar begins with the cast searching the audience for a subject. After elimination, one person is selected and the process begins. It takes a while to get on board, but the script is generally light hearted and liberally salted with bon mots and hilarity. The second half is a journey into the greater universe and a closer look at our planet; an exploration for a better society. Ultimately, there are two simple choices, but like all tomorrows, there are perceived risks.
Don’t we face choices almost daily that include unknowns? Are we to be cosigned to a status quo based on fear? Have we allowed current events to undermine our faith and self-confidence?
Ultimately, we will make choices and even the most insignificant may alter everything. A move from Atlanta to rural Tennessee is loaded with unknowns. Relocating to Mars with Elon Musk’s project to establish a colony would surely mean no return.
Tightly directed by Kevin Gillese, the performances are at times spellbinding. Bart Hansard as Derek, the seminar maestro, leads the tour de force. With cameo appearances from imaginary TV hosts and one mindless tweet from a buffoon, there’s more than enough to demonstrate how well humor and irony fit seamlessly into Southern storytelling. It’s part of the fabric that makes us so darn mysterious.
Images by Christopher Bartelski and BreeAnne Clowdus Photography.