SANDUSKY Pity poor Joe.
People accuse him of standing idly by while tragedies occur, as though he could care less about the victims.
Joe doesn't know why people keep asking him "why." He claims he has no control, for crying out loud, never mind that he insists he's God.
This mysterious individual comes across as literally just an average Joe in "Early One Evening at the Rainbow Bar & Grille," the laugh-out-loud satiric black comedy playing through Sunday in Sandusky.
The play is set in a run-down bar in the middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania in the 80s. With the play's quirky characters, multiple laughs and its rather casual title, it's not hard to envision "Rainbow" as a sitcom.
The show may be little more than that, but the situation facing these eccentrics is hardly cause to relax, down a few cold ones and crack jokes.
Something is killing off the U.S. population. Nobody knows who the perpetrators are or what a motive might be, although the blame game is all the rage: The Chinese, the Russians and the Arabs are among those implicated.
The almighty isn't immune from blame, either.
"He" enters the Rainbow Bar and Grille, and Playwright Bruce Graham immediately draws our attention to him: He's the only one who is able to make an outgoing call on the bar telephone. What's more, he knows the characters' names, even though he hasn't met them before. The characters claim they've never seen him before, either.
In perhaps a jab at small town naivet, some of the characters are willing to hear him out, although he appears to be a loony.
"Why are you doing this to us?" one of the characters asks Joe, referring to the unexplainable deaths.
"If I had a buck for every time someone asked me that I could retire," the man who thinks he's Lord replies.
In a comical and some might say sacrilegious way, playwright Bruce Graham questions whether God is really as powerful as we think. In fact, at one point, Joe forgets something in the bathroom (God? forgetful?)
In the Harlequins Sandusky Community Theatre production, Jack Mulaney depicts a very human "Lord." Mulaney's supreme being is basically an old geezer whose wide eyes and business-like expression evokes laughter more than fear.
Joe isn't the only comical character taking cover in the Rainbow Bar and Grille.
Few are funnier (in a dark way, of course) than Willy. He decides to spend his remaining minutes or hours trying, albeit unsuccessfully, to kill those who've wronged him in life.
"Dammit; everybody I want to shoot has left town. It's not fair!" proclaims the character, decked out in military gear and brandishing a rifle.
Jim Ohlemacher, who plays Willy, recites this line with genuine frustration, prompting laughter. Ohlemacher is commanding in the role, and alert like a hunter.
If Willy is the aggressor, bartender Shep is the pacifist; He's as cool and collected as they come. Steven Wetzel gives an impressively understated performance as Shep, appearing calm and at home in the bar.
These aren't the best drawn characters. We know little, for instance about Bullard (Ron Butcher, conveying a business-like manner) other than he's an annoying traveling salesman always ready with a pitch.
But, the characters prove that, faced with an event such as doomsday, one never knows how anyone will react.
He may even think himself God.
"Early One Evening at the Rainbow Bar & Grille" takes place at 8:15 p.m. today, Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday at Harlequins Sandusky Community Theatre, 414 Wayne St. For ticket information, call (419) 621-1311.