Panic is all panic from the start. The play opens with a scream and the lights reveal couple Jake (Michael Orlandi) and Kaitlin (Olivia Rose Barresi) standing over a dead man with blood on their faces. They scream once, twice facing the audience, then turn to each other in typical comedic fashion and finish it off with a third. It’s a important moment in the play that signals that the rest of these characters’ brief foray into criminal activity will be met with lighthearted, absurd humor.
We learn that Jake and Kaitlyn are soon-to-be-married, and that their $100,000 wedding has driven them to selling coke to cover their expenses. This coke deal has led them to the Riverside Motel, a seedy locale at the edge of town where these types of things usually go down. The dead body on the floor is a customer who committed suicide, and now looks like a murder to be pinned on Jake and Kaitlyn.
This back story is the weakest point of the show. Jake and Kaitlyn’s spats are redundant and cliche– we’re reminded time and again how Kaitlyn wanted 20 ice sculptures at their wedding (Kaitlyn doesn’t look like the type of bride who’d want any ice sculptures period) and each of these domestic discussions provide the stagnant information without much buildup or momentum in the plot. And while Kaitlyn’s tough attitude implies that she has street smarts, neither she nor the passive, feminized Jake look like they’d find their way into coke possession, much less actually be attracted to each other.
John Pastore’s script excels best when dealing with Jake and Kaitlyn’s present circumstances. Kaitlyn calls her ex-convict brother Billy (Thom Christensen), whose cynical attitude and action-driven role is refreshing in the comedy’s otherwise airy substance. This odd trio works together well, particularly when it comes to disposing the body. When Billy tells Jake that he’s going to saw the body into pieces, so many of the audience members around me gasped that I thought no one in the room had ever watched the second episode of Breaking Bad.
Also thrown into the chaos are the hotel manager (Tom Cappadona) and a dummy investigator (Tom Burka). Cappadona’s bewilderment at Burka’s stupidity is one of the highlights of the show. Panic is overall enjoyable and the production is seamlessly paced with lots of laughs. However, at times the script and direction seem to go for obvious punchlines and frivolous laughs, passing up on perhaps more inventive, and more funny, choices.
Panic at the Riverside Motel plays through February 8 at Stage IV. Tickets here!