The Armadillo Necktie
Reviewed by Neal Weaver
Lonny Chapman Theatre
Through July 31
If you crossed The Heart of Darkness with Alice in Wonderland, you might come up with something resembling Gus Krieger’s strange play. The piece is a grab-bag of bizarre elements: there are two sword-fights, several chase scenes, threatened torture, two time-bombs, a Mexican stand-off and unreliable narrators. Also, the time seems literally out of joint, with several years passing in what seems to be a couple of days. In short, Krieger’s play contains a bit of everything except a clear purpose.
The action occurs in an army trailer-command post on the border between Iraq and Afghanistan, and the time is “The Mid-Aught.” The place is the headquarters and residence of a rogue army officer, Colonel Ulysses S. Armadillo (Bert Emmet), who’s still lurking in place nearly three decades after the end of the Iraq war. He’s a megalomaniac, given to long,surreal monologues, patriotic speeches, and an inclination to bully those around him. The necktie of the title refers to the threats the Colonel makes against his enemies. He will, he says, disembowel them, rip out their intestines, wrap them around their necks, and hang them with their own guts. But it doesn’t appear he’s ever actually used this tactic. The only thing that he really seems to do is to bluster and procrastinate.
Armadillo is embittered by the fact that his beloved wife was murdered by insurgents, and he has sworn not to leave till he has caught and killed the malefactors. Unfortunately, he doesn’t know who they are, and he never saw their faces, so the likelihood of his finding them seems slight. His presence is a thorn in the side of the U.S. Military, and a G.I., Buckley Dunham (Matt Calloway) has been sent to either get him out of Iraq or kill him. Buckley, however, has developed a perverse affection for the old coot, and has stayed on as his keeper and aide-de-camp.
Meanwhile, Armadillo’s strange antics have attracted press attention, and a reporter for The New York Times, Madeline Sainz (Jennifer Laks), has come to Iraq seeking an interview with him, accompanied by her photographer, Bruce Walker (Morgan Lauff). She’s unaware that Bruce has an agenda of his own, involving laying hands on the gold ingots which the U.S. Government lost in the swirling tides of war, and which he suspects are in the possession of Armadillo. He’s a prototypical Ugly American, who proclaims that he’s a fine upright citizen except when he’s planting time bombs and pursuing the non-existent treasure.
There’s also an Iraqi woman, Aminah Abdul-Haleem Ali (Shanti Ashanti) whose brother has been kidnapped by insurgents, and who hopes to persuade Armadillo to rescue him before he’s killed by his captors. Armadillo promises to help, but somehow never gets around to it, and the brother is killed. Aminah responds by returning with a bomb strapped to her body, seeking revenge against Armadillo. And the wild and woolly plot goes on and on till it ends in carnage.
Krieger’s script is chockful of interesting situations and ornamented with numerous incongruities, seemingly included for the sake of incongruity. Buckley, when he isn’t threatening sadistic tortures, busies himself with his knitting. And when Armadillo pursues Aminah with seeming murderous intent, he catches her and exclaims, “I’ve caught you. Now you’re it, and you chase me!” There are a few solid laughs along the way, but not enough to keep us interested in the more than two chaotic hours of running time.
Drina Durazo directs with efficiency, though she can’t really make sense of it all. And the cast all acquit themselves honorably. Emmet provides a tour-de-force performance as the demented Armadillo, and the rest offer loyal and energetic support.
Lonny Chapman Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., thru July 31. (818) 763-5900 or www.thegrouprep.com. Running time: Two hours and 25 minutes with a 15 minute intermission.