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What We're Seeing: "Untitled Raccoon Play" by SMJ
Guest Review by Katherine Hebert
Abby Messina, Anne-Marie Pietersma, Henri Sudy, Madeleine Norton, Daniel Kunkel, & Zoe Nebraska Feldman in the 2022 Workshop Production of “Untitled Raccoon Play” (Photo by Marth Brown)
Untitled Raccoon Play is a satirical glimpse into queer conservatism, anti-vax ideals and alt-right ideologies in the face of a pandemic. Having just wrapped its run at The Tank, this latest endeavor by director and playwright SMJ is memorable, timely and immensely funny. The piece follows the six members of the Danville Lions Club as they try to organize and mount Danville’s 79th Annual Raccoon Dinner while facing a growing amount of unprecedented obstacles. Between the ongoing pandemic, a missing member, uncooperative raccoons and lack of funds their community’s annual fundraiser is beginning to seem more and more impossible. Simultaneously the six members of the Ohio Raccoon Club are struggling with their own civil upheaval in response to the results of the latest raccoon, yes literal raccoons, election.
The piece functions in two worlds, Tomi’s (played by Abby Messina) mom’s basement where the Danville Lions Club is holding their meeting, and the world beneath their floorboards where the Ohio Raccoon Club is holding their own meeting. The piece switches back and forth between the two worlds with each cast member playing both a human and their raccoon counterpart. In the world of the Danville Lions club we meet a gang of queer conservatives voicing their frustrations with Covid restrictions, the liberal elite, lack of funding, and the lack of loyalty from other club members. In the world of the Ohio Raccoon club we encounter a similar struggle playing out amongst their population with tense exchanges about the outcome of a recent election and the possible usurpers amongst them. The correlation between the two is both organizations’ promise that they exist to “serve” their community. However as the piece goes on it becomes apparent that both groups are only performing service while ensuring their own needs are met. Both the Lions and the raccoons have clearly defined self-interests that every breath of dialogue is used protecting and “serving”. Their leader Sandy (Anne-Marie Pietersma) serving her desire for control. Her husband, Pat (Daniel Kunkel) serves his desire for authority. Tomi (Abby Messina) serves her desire for admiration and respect. CB (Zoe Nebraska) serves their desire for acceptance and a sense of belonging within the group. On the fringes of the groups ideology is CC (Henri Rocket) who serves their desire to maintain the status quo. The entire play takes place in a trash littered basement that none of our characters seem to be able to leave.
In the world of the Danville Lions Club every conservative talking point is met. No target is missed, race, gender, COVID-19, each conservative talking point is mindlessly parroted from the Lions’ mouths. This puts Untitled Raccoon Play in an interesting predicament. Many pieces can’t survive with one unlikable protagonist, this piece has six, and with a weak cast I could very easily see these characters coming across as caricatures of conservative ideals rather than real people. Fortunately Untitled Raccoon Play is carried on the backs of an incredibly strong ensemble.
Anne-Marie Pietersma gives a brilliant take on the high-strung Sandy and a chilling take as her raccoon counterpart Sly Cooper. With Daniel Kunkel playing her husband Pat with a put on authoritative air. The pair have palpable tension as the couple plays out their own internal marital struggles in front of the other Lions through clenched teeth smiles. Zoe Nebraska Feldman plays CB with incredible specificity and constant engagement. Madeline Norton does a brilliant job of balancing her character’s desire for belonging with her growing doubts about who she’s chosen to align herself with. Henri Sudy brings a level of accuracy that comes from falling out of an ideology quiet hesitation to CC that is flipped on its head in the second act when their Raccoon counterpart takes the stage. A standout performance is Abby Messina’s take on Tomi. Messina doesn’t waste a moment onstage and plays her track with an unhinged, boisterous absurdity using up every ounce of her time onstage and relishing in playing someone we love to hate.
All in all Untitled Raccoon Play is a strong piece that discusses the dangers of the conservative movement and the nefarious nature of what lies below the adult adolescents parroting what they watched on Fox News. There is no conviction behind their views, only conditioning, their rhetoric comes across as mindless and they are constantly swept away with the next drama. As much conversation as there is about serving their community it’s apparent that our six propagandists are only concerned with serving themselves. The raccoons serve as a metaphor for those same conservative ideals without the pretense of helping others. Untitled Raccoon Play finished its run at the Tank on the 15th of August, I for one will be in the front row when this piece re-emerges again.
“Untitled Raccoon Play” written and directed by SMJ.
Featuring Zoe Nebraska Feldman, Daniel Kunkel, Abby Messina, Madeleine Norton, Anne-Marie Pietersma, and Henri Sudy. Intimacy direction by Zoe Nebraska Feldman, fight direction by Daniel Kunkel, dramaturgy by Julia "Juju" Neito, and voiceovers by Kayla Zanakis.
“Untitled Raccoon Play” ran at The Tank (312 W 36th St) from August 12-14, 2022. Run time approximately 90 minutes (0 intermissions).
For more information visit https://www.smjwrites.com/
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