"Fit to Be Tied" a Heartwarming Camp at Rising Action Theatre | Stage | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida

"Fit to Be Tied" a Heartwarming Camp at Rising Action Theatre

Please picture an angel in wings, no shirt, translucent white tights. His mouth is full of a ball gag, and he is cuffed at his feet and hands to a vicious wooden chair that looks a little like Old Sparky. He is locked in the bedroom of a tony New York apartment and trying to kick his way out, so as to alert his wealthy captor’s drunk and disinherited mother that he is in need of rescue.

I’m here! I’m alive! Rescue me from bondage! This is the central riff of playwright Nicky Silver’s Fit to Be Tied, a riff that’s recapitulated again and again. The angel’s captor, a poor little rich boy named Arloc, needs rescue from loneliness as well as from his prison of swarming neuroses. He inherited most of those compulsive disorders from his mother, Nessa. She’s in need of rescue too, from a bottle and a bad marriage to a man, Carl, who is desperately seeking rescue from the hatred of the very people he most counted upon to love him.

The angel’s name is Boyd (Brandon St. John), and he’s not really an angel. He’s actually a flaky would-be moviemaker who nabbed a seasonal job as an angel in Radio City Music Hall’s Christmas pageant, at which Arloc (Larry Fields) has sat in the darkness for nights on end, dreaming of possessing the young man soaring through the theater’s air. Arloc is afraid of people, but he desperately needed company — he hasn’t known human contact since his first and only boyfriend. So he asked his pseudo-seraph on a date, which, as we may divine from the ball gag and cuffs, has gone awry.

Still, Arloc’s mother and captive are here to stay — Nessa because she needs out of that marriage, Boyd because he realizes that he has no place else to go. In Fit to Be Tied's opening scene, Arloc stood center stage, declaiming his loneliness as the stillness of his apartment hummed around him like the guts of an old refrigerator. Though Nessa (Kitt Marsh) never quite puts down the bottle and though Boyd never reclaims much dignity after his brief stint as a prisoner (he stays on as Arloc’s boyfriend when Nessa puts him on the payroll), the three manage to fill the place with laughter and warmth.

They do this almost in spite of themselves. Tom Falborn plays Nessa’s unloved husband too stiff and too loud, like neon-painted cardboard. Fields is an overactor nonpareil; in his Arloc’s more cynical moments, he manages to make eye-rolling seem bombastic. And as always with St. John, one gets the sense that he’s really only playing himself — high-pitched, high-strung, and full of affected pluck.

Yet it works, largely because of the hurricane-esque performance of Marsh, whose lusty portrayal gives the production an emotional anchor and narrative momentum. Her seriousness and commitment turn Fit to Be Tied into a high-stakes play. We connect with the other characters in part because she is connecting with them so profoundly. This is true even when Marsh is being funny, which is often. She’ll pierce a cloud of giggles with a heartbreaking throwaway line (“I’ve been there for you,” she says to her son, “at times”), like she’s hiding a razor blade in an apple.

Rising Action Theatre has aspired to camp many times, but with this play, it’s finally achieved it. Some of this has to do with the script; Silver’s curlicue-covered monologues are impossible to play subtly, and Fields’ natural high-volume delivery does him justice. But the campy loveliness of this Fit to Be Tied has much to do with fun too. Fields is having a fantastic time tying up his angel, and St. John loves mooning around Arloc’s apartment, swilling champagne in tights.

Fit to Be Tied’s characters aren’t quite ordinary. They’re Freaks & Geeks for the bitter queen set, members of a misfits’ menagerie finding comfort in their own company. Arloc’s a criminal; Nessa’s a drunk; Boyd’s a profiteer. Hardly angelic, but willing to take salvation where they find it. If St. John’s performance is a little one-note, it doesn’t matter. And if Fields’ emotions run a little wild, so what? Why expect a self-loathing shut-in to behave normally? Their characters aren’t quite believable, but real life seldom is.

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Brandon K. Thorp

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