Tilly (Travis Horseman), an assassin, is psychoanalyzed by Dr. H (Julie Ferreri) in The Air Loom (photo by Michelle Batt)
Jim Azelvandre’s last name is pronounced “A-zel-van-der,” with the accent on that first, long “A.” You’ll need to know that in case you ever get in a conversation about Ohio’s up-and-coming playwrights. Anyone who’s been around the local theater scene for long knows Azelvandre can act, but The Air Loom proves he can write, too. The darkly comic mystery/political thriller rolls out its ingenious plot over the space of two consistently engrossing acts. Is the new play an instant classic? Hard to say, because the premiere production owes so much of its success to Azelvandre’s additional skill as a director. Under his leadership, the cast turns the characters into an intriguing and complementary group of eccentrics. The mystery revolves around Tilly (Travis Horseman), a formerly upstanding businessman who’s undergoing psychological evaluation after assassinating the prime minister of the unnamed country where the story takes place. State-appointed psychiatrist Dr. H (Julie Ferreri) hopes to save Tilly from execution by proving he’s insane, but Tilly insists he did what he did to prevent an unnecessary war. Is Tilly really insane? We suspect not, but Horseman’s portrayal of the haughty, patronizing prisoner keeps us guessing. Besides, his explanation of the events leading up to the assassination—which we see acted out while he relates them to Dr. H—is bizarre, to say the least. Nine months ago, Tilly claims, he ran across a gang of subversives who’d invented a machine capable of influencing a person’s emotions. After learning that they intended to use the machine to foment war, he set out to stop them. Led by Bill the King (Stephen Woosley), the gang consists of the cross-dressing Sir Archy (MaryBeth Griffith), a woman who insists she’s a man; the word-obsessed Mag (Mary Sink), who’s constantly consulting a dictionary or thesaurus; and the Gloved Woman (Courtney Deuser), a black-attired widow who’s as prone to fits of laughter as she is to sexual come-ons. Also on hand is Charlotte (Jennie Price), a shy foreigner who is derided and abused by the others. Griffith and Deuser make the most of their juicy characters, the volatile Archy and the lascivious Gloved Woman, and are thus the most fun to watch. But all of the actors are effective and blend together to form a seamless ensemble. Deb Dyer’s witty costume designs—which range from the Gloved Woman’s sexy threads to Charlotte’s demure dress—go a long way toward defining each character. Together with Peter Graybeal’s sound and Brendan Michna’s lighting and set design, they also define the play’s general atmosphere of danger and unreality. If you don’t think at least briefly of A Clockwork Orange, you probably haven’t seen that dystopian classic. As with any tale that’s built on the question of what is or isn’t real, the acid test is whether the ending can sort things all out without undermining what’s come before. Azelvandre’s twisted ending manages to do just that. With an assured production of an assured script now under his belt, it’s clear that actor/writer/director Azelvandre has developed into a true theatrical triple threat. The Air Loom continues at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Nov. 9 at MadLab Theatre & Gallery, 227 N. Third St. Tickets are $12, $10 for students and seniors, $8 for members. 614-221-5418 or madlab.net. CUTLINE: Tilly (Travis Horseman), an assassin, is psychoanalyzed by Dr. H (Julie Ferreri) in The Air Loom (photo by Michelle Batt)