Hits Close to Home
KC Fringe Festival
We know this story all too well, and it is a little frightening that we do. Set in small town Missouri, "Caldwell's Bomb" invites us into the world of ignorance and extremism. Playwright Bill Rogers scores well with this dark comedy that turned out to be the highlight of my 2011 Fringe experience.
Dim-witted, unemployed Earl (Scott Cordes) spends his days drinking beer and ogling neighbor women, and lives with his girlfriend Deena (Cheryl Weaver) and her son Caldwell (Matthew Melson). While Deena works two jobs, Earl uses what little energy he has in participating in the activities of the Eagles of Liberty, a militia group that causes havoc in the town. The ringleader of the Eagles is Jimbo (Richard Alan Nichols), who quotes Bible scriptures and Republicanisms like there's no tomorrow. When Earl and Jimbo discover that Caldwell is skillful at fixing anything from toasters to alarm clocks, they decide to coerce him into making a bomb that will blow up a town hall meeting where a politician is going to speak about a new call center that will provide jobs.
The script is well equipped with humor when it comes to the words that spill out of Earl's mouth. He blames foreigners, Jews, the government and even the U.N. for "taking our jobs". Earl is a slob and a jerk, and Jimbo's able to order him around because he doesn't have much going on upstairs. Standout performer Cordes took this character in stride and gave him depth. On Sunday's performance, he first connected with the audience with his skillfulness at delivering quips. Once we got to know Earl, Cordes then took a turn to concentrate on Earl's realization that he's never killed anyone before.
Weaver, the strong leading lady she always is, gave a convincing performance as Dee. She used a powerful, commanding voice when arguing with Earl and Jimbo, and employed a warm, comforting voice when speaking with Caldwell. Melson, as Caldwell, is an actor we should look forward to seeing for years to come. His slow but deliberate way of movement and speech was a thoughtful performance. Caldwell is described as being behind in school, but Melson reveals his character's intelligence with impressive sensitivity.
I was somewhat disappointed with Nichols' performance as Jimbo. Unfortunately, he seemed to be miscast in this role as a vindictive, gun-toting hick. His appearance seemed much weaker than what his character was supposed to be. Although the script helped Nichols get some laughs when Jimbo spoke of being deputized by God, lines were delivered with some hesitation and I expected more out of a veteran actor.
Overall, this play definitely gave me food for thought. We know these people. We might even live with these people. Ignorance can be funny, but when it comes to harming innocent people, it hits close to home.
There are two performances left of "Caldwell's Bomb". Don't miss this opportunity to see some Kansas City theatre heavyweights onstage together. You can find out more information at www.kcfringe.org.