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July 2008 Archives

July 12, 2008

Somewhere in the Pacific by Neal Bell (Potomac Theatre Project, Atlantic Stage 2, New York Directed by Jim Petosa. Runs until July 26, 2008)

Pacific.jpg(L-R): James Smith as McGuiness and Malcolm Madera as Albers - Photographer Stan Barouh

The ensemble work in this tale set on a troopship "somewhere in the Pacific" towards the end of World War II is very good, well-timed and well-choreographed. But while Neal Bell's core desire in the play, as told in his program notes, is to show how homophobia damages not only its target but also its targeters, from captain on down to private, his good intention gets lost in the play's clunky structure and its WWII-war-movie-inflected dialogue. Director Jim Petosa also makes some ineffective choices, such as the staging of the last scene on a life-raft after the troop ship has been torpedo'd, that obscure Bell's message. In the end, I was not clear why Bell wrote this play, what question he had in mind that the play answered, since the play seems as much about the complicated friendships among men under the crush of war as it does about the crush of prejudice and proscribed desire.

Michael Bettencout

Scenes From An Execution by Howard Barker (Potomac Theatre Project, Atlantic Stage 2, New York Directed by Richard Romagnoli. Runs until July 26, 2008)

Execution.jpg
(L-R): Peter Schmitz as Prodo and Jan Maxwell as Galactia - Photographer Stan Barouh

Howard Barker is a hard playwright to feel warm about -- his primary characters make no concession to sentiment, and all of them, to one degree or another, are fascinating monsters, driven by a complicated choreography with power that causes pain and dislocation as they cut their way through the world. In "Scenes," Galactia, an unmatched painter with an unruly desire to tell the truth, is commissioned by the city-state of Venice to memorialize its greatest military triumph, the battle of Lepanto. In the course of covering 3000 square feet of canvas, she manages to offend everyone from the Doge on down by choosing to portray slaughter rather than triumph. But lest we take the the default liberal position of championing the artist over the state, Barker gives the state some pretty strong arguments about why we shouldn't trust artists to tell the truth, and in the end Galactia comes off both as a hero and a fool. For the most part, director Richard Romagnoli has crafted a balanced and energized production, and Jan Maxwell has created a Galactia who may be impossible to love but who demands that we pay attention -- and we do, to our delighted agitation..

Michael Bettencourt

Do Not Do This Ever Again by Karinne Keithley (SoHo Think Tank/Ice Factory 2008, Ohio Theate, New York Directed by Maria Goyanes. Runs until July 12, 2008)

"Do Not Do This Ever Again" is a 90-minute intermissionless journey into "a landscape of lost love and modern loneliness," though the multi-media'd journey feels so much longer because about halfway through writer Keithley and director Goyanes decided to drop humor and cheek and instead go portentious and sober. Broken into 3½ parts (the half-part is called "inter-part"), the talented eight-member crew of "Do Not..." drapes long swags of faux-meaningful text over the audience in order to decrease their oxygen supply and slip them into a hypnotic state where they will believe they are being shown something significant and insightful, when, in fact, they're only experiencing a low-grade delirium induced by the performance and a stuffy theatre. Keithley and Goyanes also cram in some projections, movement, and music (both instrumental and vocal -- Katy Pyle's voice is actually the best thing in the show), but very little of it adds yeast to the unleavened core of Keithley's play.

Michael Bettencourt

Crave by Sarah Kane (Potomac Theatre Project, Atlantic Stage 2, New York Directed by Cheryl Faraone. Runs until July 26, 2008)

It is well-nigh impossible to hear Sarah Kane's aching meditation on the cravings for love, connection, and understanding minus the static bred by her suicide several months after the piece was written. But it is important to do so in order to judge the work as theatre. Four voices, labeled A, M, B, and C (Adam Ludwig, Stephanie Janssen, Rishabh Kashyap, and Stephanie Strohm), sit in four chairs under occasionally shifted lighting and, in choral concert, interweave tales of yearnings for linkage, as if the default state of life is sadness and disconnect. But "Crave" is not really a play, if by "play" is meant a narrative of change, revelation, reversal, conflict, "high stakes," and so on, and because of its non-play structure, all is told, not shown, over a hour's time, which makes "Crave" a presentation more for the ear than the eye. As a consequence, its poetic earnestness, despite the talented efforts of director Cheryl Faraone and cast, becomes tedious and, in its tediousness, ironically reinforces the disconnect that A, M, B, and C (and Kane) struggle to nullify through their sad and lonely chorus.

Michael Bettencourt

July 20, 2008

TRACES/fades by Lenora Champagne (SoHo Think Tank/Ice Factory 2008, Ohio Theatre, New York - Written and Directed by Lenora Champagne. Runs until July 19, 2008

traces-w-lenora_web.jpg (L-R) Amelie Lyons, Joanne Jacobson and Lenora Champagne - Photographer: Gary Breckheimer

TRACES/fades runs about 75 minutes and is Ms. Champagne's "meditation on Alzheimer's and our national inability to remember history." Therein lies the challenge with this sometimes affecting but often off-putting production: a mixture of themes and devices that have not been blended dramatically. The script's constant references to wars and bumbling presidents and amnesiac societies is butted up against the central story of a memory-losing Ann (Joanne Jacobson) who, packed away in a nursing home, is beloved by her granddaughter (Amelie Champagne Lyons) and only marginally attended to by her daughter (played by Ms. Champagne). Naturally, the old woman's story steals center stage because it is immediate and visceral as opposed to the more abstract commentaries on big-picture politics. The play's structure mimics this uneasy link of part-to-part, with presentational elements morphing into song-singing to prettyish tunes by Daniel Levy and Lisa Dove to some very wry and wrenching interactions among the denizens of Ann's nursing home (Mary Fogarty, Matthew Lewis, and Judith Greentree) as they spar with their well-meaning but overwhelmed care-giver Nettie (Quanda Johnson) -- all of which are individually interesting but which are also not quilted into a dramatic whole. (Not to mention the video projections by Shaun Irons and Lauren Petty of purling water under ice, snowstorms, hands that write then un-write what they've just written, and so on, which are more distracting than illuminating.) The moments I found most touching were the ones ungussied by "theatrical device" and "author's message," such as when Nettie complains to Delores about how her getting-older body is thickening in the middle, and Delores responds, straight and acerbic, with "That's nothing. Just wait. Everything hurts." Truth plain and unadorned in those words, and the audience, understandably, laughed in both recognition and commiseration. Or when Nettie muses, "If we are what we remember, then who are we when we forget?" Moments like those are what makes seeing TRACES/fades worth the effort.

Michael Bettencourt

About July 2008

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