by Julian Sheppard
Paragon Theatre Company
Phoenix Theatre, Denver
Buicks is a delicious unraveling of a modern myth. Our hero is not a Greek warrior or medieval night, but a modern day owner of a family car dealership with a wife and two children who lives in suburbia. According to the modern myth, these ingredients should add up to a happy home and a fulfilled protagonist. But heroes are not made without struggle. The intriguing thing about Buicks is that in this story, it is the myth itself that the hero struggles against. Our protagonist finds himself failing in his relationships both personal and professional because he has bought lock stock and barrel the myth that the equation of owning your own business and having the nuclear family naturally adds up to happiness, without any real work or self-reflection. Bill is sleepwalking through life, trying so hard to convince himself that he should be happy that he is oblivious to the warning signs that all is not well in suburbia. Bill has gone through his life just doing what he thought he had to do in order to be a son and a husband, without ever really learning who he is and who he wants to be. The myth has betrayed Bill. When the variables in Bill’s happiness equation start falling away, Bill is forced to take action for himself, and of course, blunders, as he is quite out of practice taking initiative—he has always let things happen to him, rather than realizing that every circumstance in his life is the result of choices he has made.
Here is where the Greeks do come in. Just as Socrates entreated his fellow human beings so long ago to “know thyself,” so, too, do the characters along the road in Bill’s quest challenge our hero to gain self-knowledge or suffer the consequences of his own denial and ignorance. Bill must admit that he is unhappy and doesn’t know what he is doing before he can gain any measure of true happiness.
The refreshing thing about Buicks is that for all of the age-old mythic elements to this story, there are modern stereotypes that get turned on their ear, a wry sense of humor that tempers the allegory and enough sex and violence to keep our attention. Come to think of it, the Greek myths had plenty of sex and violence, too, along with the philosophy and ethical dilemmas. Huh. I guess there really is nothing new under the sun, and if we don’t learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it….
Known for their high-quality productions, Paragon Theatre Company does not disappoint. Buicks only raises the bar of expectations one more notch…To miss this production is to miss a feast for the heart, the senses…and the soul.
Director Wendy Franz keeps the action moving throughout, navigating playwright Sheppard’s multitudinous scene changes with simple, yet effective props. Jarrad Holbrook conjures a steady stream of offbeat characters, including an amusingly nerdy customer and an abrasive barfly. Ken Witt does a nice turn as Bill’s grumpy, hard-to-please father.
There’s also a lot of dialogue that’s interesting and original, as well as some genuinely affecting revelatory moments.
Best Actor, Colorado Backstage Spotlight Awards: David Harms
Best Supporting Actor, Colorado Backstage Spotlight Awards: Ken Witt