Given that the BP oil disaster inspired Cripple Creek Theatre founder Andrew Vaught to write A Crude Trilogy, the bulk of it completed in June, one might not have expected such comic absurdity, or — for a company that has staged so many works concerned with social justice (An Enemy of the People, Waiting for Lefty, Bury the Dead) — such a nuanced approach to the devastation of coastal marshes. Two of the three short works are very strong, and it's exciting to see the company producing such entertaining original work.
All three pieces are set in the oil-soaked coast of Louisiana, where eccentric locals encounter strange visitors including a mysterious inventor (Donald Lewis) sneaking around at night with an oil-harvesting contraption, a mysterious Lizard Man (Alden Eagle) and a preppily dressed industrialist (also Alden Eagle) indifferent to the lands he is ravaging in pursuit of his pastimes (as if a large tanker is his personal yacht).
A Devil Machine is the most straightforward tale, with a mother and daughter of extremely modest means trying to create a makeshift memorial out of convenience store items for a lost family member. The inventor wants to extract oil from the very same spot, and it magnifies the dark tradeoff between emotional grounding and personal profit as the women get excited about recovering fuel from the ruined land.
The second and third parts were inspired, and absurd vignettes driven, by Vaught himself, entertainingly animated both as a wild-eyed hick shaman in Trappers and a cantankerous hustler in the Amateur Ship Building. Trappers delves into a strange nexus of hoarding contraband that both lures and sates strung-out locals and a mythical and beastly Lizard Man. Ship Building is more of an offbeat satire of various types of business strategies, represented by the hustler Bob (Vaught), Rice (Lewis), the proprietor of a ramshackle country store on the bayou, and the industrialist who is building a mammoth steel ship and ramming it through the swamps.
Donald Lewis turned in some of his best work yet with the company, especially as Rice, and also as Righty in Trappers. Keith Launey was solid as both Ellis in Trappers and the compliant laborer Caleb in Ship Building.
Vaught has a gift for absurdist theater combining physical comedy and tragic circumstances. Emilie Whelan directed the show, and Geoff Munsterman created an effective set at AllWays Lounge. — Will Coviello