jesse young

Theatre Vertigo opens their new season with Don DeLillo's Valparaiso, written after the success of his 1997 novel Underworld. Valparaiso examines the consequences of popular media's "human interest stories": the push to feed the public's hunger for ever more details, and the inverse relationship between fame and selfhood. If some of the work's themes feel a touch dated, that's the only downside to Vertigo's meticulously executed, well-acted production.

When Michael Majeski (Mario Calcagno) heads to Valparaiso, Indiana on a business trip, he mistakenly ends up in Valparaiso, Chile, instead. His adventure is picked up by the news media, and Michael becomes the human interest story of the month, telling his tale over and over again until he's memorized every question, every answer—even every pause in the delivery of his story. He is sometimes joined by his wife, Livia (the adorable Amy Newman), whose chipper surface masks a strangely brittle, obsessive interior.

It's a testament to Vertigo's well thought-out production that Michael's repetitions never become tedious. Instead, there is mounting tension and unease, augmented by discordant lighting and sound blasts suggesting that something sinister lurks beneath Michael's charming, well-rehearsed recitations.

In act two, Michael and Livia have made it to the final destination of any fame-hungry pilgrim: the Delfina Show. Delfina (Ritah Parrish) is the ultimate mass culture creation, demanding details and gory insights from her guests. She is assisted by the disaffected Teddy (Gary Norman). Parrish and Norman are fabulous as Delfina and Teddy, pushing Michael and Livia to reveal everything, driving Michael's media evisceration to its inevitable conclusion.

This production gets it all right: The acting is top-notch (props especially to Calcagno for a solid performance in a difficult role), Jesse Young's direction is tight, Tatiana Sakuri's costume design is stylish and thoughtful, and the lighting and sound are evocative and effective. It's a promising start to their season, and a must-see for DeLillo fans—or anyone else with a post-modern itch that needs scratching.