Stark Raving Theater, 3430 SE Belmont St, 232-7072
7:30pm Sundays, $6-$15

The Glowing Pumpkin Incident is a work in progress, performed with a few props on a set established for another show. The narrative is meant to be an adult's childhood memory, complete with incongruities and hazy edges. Through most of the play, an off-stage "glowing pumpkin" stands as a metaphor for television. The pumpkin, like television, is presented as a household oddity, an intruder accepted as normal and necessary by all but one character.

The father alone recognizes the pumpkin's threat to the family unit through mind control. Those specific moments are marked by dimming lights sounds, and later by an actual voice--the off-stage pumpkin channeling commands through the on-stage TV.

For a production aiming toward surreal qualities, the props are surprisingly literal. Television, on stage, is represented by a television. The glowing pumpkin is echoed by plastic pumpkin accessories.

Miscommunication between husband and wife is underscored with a copy of the book Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus. The most surreal element is the set, a cave, meant for another production but which contributes an abstract sense of place. Other elements--the mother's '50s housewife costume, in combination with the husband's cell phone and the cordless phone on the table--feel anachronistic, pointing to an ill-defined time frame rather than a dreamlike jumble. When the pumpkin says, "Soon there'll be one of me in every household," it's unclear whether this is set in the '50s, with television on the way in, or if it's only the tyrannical, mad pumpkin element that's new while TV is already commonplace.

Miscommunication is meant to be at the heart of the play. "Lack of communication," the program says, "can be a deadly thing." The play starts with a contorted argument between husband and wife. There are interesting moments of dialogue based on a combination of one character's strong opinions meeting the other's twisted logic.

Soon, however, any realistic exploration of interpersonal dynamics is highjacked by Twilight Zone--inspired commentary on television's insidious role. It's no longer about lack of communication, but rather about communicating with a totalitarian pumpkin. With the initial argument between husband and wife, dialogue begins at a high pitch. It stays at the same level of bickering throughout, advancing the plot without doing much to further complicate or reveal characters until the ending, which brings a final and sudden revelation necessary to transition the work to a close.

This is raw material in an active growth stage and an abundance of enthusiasm from the cast. Brad Fortier, as the near comatose, television-obsessed son Stevie, is an incredible stage presence. For most of the production, Fortier's back is to the audience, and most of his back is hidden by a couch, but still he manages to convey comedy, tragedy, and insanity through minute movements, few lines, and sheer physicality.

Lynn Frison, as Suzy, begins with an awkward stage presence but finds her role in comedy as the character takes a controversial position (against the pumpkin) out of fear.

Because it is a work in progress, performances are followed by Q&A, and an opportunity to make suggestions to the cast and crew. It's a chance to participate in the creative process. Participation in a creative community is one thing a night with the television has never offered.