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Mr. Burns @ CPT

March 2nd, 2016 No comments

Hoofed it over to CPT last week to see Mr. Burns. The production was fantastic, especially the third act which is so brilliantly done it makes the whole play worth seeing, which is saying something because the play itself is not that great, in fact, weighing in at two hours and fifteen minutes, this play could have been cut.

The first act is a post-apocalyptic campsite, and for fans of the Walking Dead it’s as close to the tv show as you’ll get in a live theater performance. The atmosphere is realistic and tense. The characters are clearly forced together and pass the time talking about Simpson episodes. Why? Who knows. They also talk about Night of the Hunter, the fantastically surreal film by Charles Laughton that stars Robert Mitchum as a murderous ex-con preacher with Love and Hate tattooed on his fists. Again, not really sure what this has to do with the play, unless Washburn is relying on the preacher’s chasing two kids across an apocalyptic landscape as a reference–for those who’ve seen the film. There’s also the reference to Cape Fear, the film also starring Robert Mitchum, in which a killer wronged by an attorney terrorizes the attorney’s family, finally cornering them on a river boat during a storm: again, a survival story with a killer. Connection to the play? This first act sets the characters and circumstances….

The second act is 7 years later, I think. Something like that. Mankind has broken into tribes that apparently have nothing better to do than re-stage Simpsons episodes. The tribes from different areas fight over lines and episodes and stories and the whole of it is pretty absurd, which I have to assume is the intent, and way too damn long. This act enforces the importance of the Simpsons to this universe, perhaps warning us about the things that we value, or the unexpected cultural artifacts that a civilization leaves behind.

The third act is very much later, I think 75 years. I am not sure what to make of this act, whether it is a theatrical enactment or a religious ritual. It is, however, the most impressive act of the production. The costuming, choreography, sound, light, and Megan Elk performing a Japanese Noh ritual dance that is as fantastic as it is strange. The third act is operatic and the stage mechanics of the Cape Fear boat, complete with the life saver bearing Love Hate from Night of the Hunter all return, is magical. Mr. Burns finally appears here, setting up a final fight between Burns and Bart. This stylized fight has much in common with the Nutcracker and the Rat King in the ballet, complete with Itchy and Scratchy as Mr. Burns’ minions.

The show, performance-wise, is worth seeing. The content and structure of the play itself would be a bit much to endorse, unless you’re truly a Simpson-ophile and a fan of whacky theater. Convergence put up The Internationalist in 2011, a much better representation of Washburn’s work.

Springboard — Again and Against — CPT

October 7th, 2011 2 comments

Went last night and saw the Springboard reading of Again and Against by Betty Shamieh. Being that it was a 2 character play that ran for 100 minutes, I would say that Shamieh did a good job holding attention and creating intriguing characters. It also is worth seeing for the mere fact that Beth Wood directs Raymond Bobgan and Chris Seibert. That said, **Spoiler Alert coming at you so don’t read on** the transition of Omar the Arab FBI agent from a “translator” bumbler to the “head of the department” mastermind at the end was a bit unbelievable, as were a host of traits he exhibited: anger, physical violence, language, and certain phrases (such as the use of “kid”—“don’t throw your life away, kid”), that I just didn’t buy.

I learned in discussion after the play that this play by Shamieh has been staged before, on the continent. That surprised me. The play felt unfinished and unfocused and as if it were searching for what it meant. It is a play in which truth is the actively sought-after goal and the “truth” of these characters is never clear. I thought this was a flaw in the play and a part of the reading/development process. After learning that this play has been staged before, it is likely that the inability to establish truth is intentional on Shamieh’s part. That is what I must conclude about the play. Almost like the inability to establish meaning in Waiting for Godot, there is a fundamental inability to find out what is true—for the audience, for the characters, and perhaps for the actors.

The play covers a lot of volatile turf from Arab American treatment to 9/11, to terrorism and the ideas of what that means—from both the “American” perspective and the perspective of others toward or about Americans. Sometimes the play got a bit preachy and journalistic, trying to report facts—for instance about the U.S. policy (unstated but enacted) of handing over terror suspects to Syria for “debriefment”. With Syria having more flexibility in its approaches to detainees than the U.S., which is “hamstrung” by a thing called the Constitution.

There is a great amount of humor in the play, which is important, again, as the thing would be depressing and possibly didactic if left un-interrupted or if the rhythm didn’t alter in the playing. There are some surprisingly strong moments, one of which comes from Omar the Arab FBI agent describing the murder by an Arab father of his daughter for disobeying him. That moment alone is worth seeing the piece and makes me think one very personal concern of Shamieh is the treatment of Arab women by Arab men. A sad fact of this play is that this amazing story from Omar is later “taken away” in a brief moment where Omar says that he made it up. That is part of the confusion of this play, and perhaps the disappointment. I understand that there is much to be gained by playing with the nature of truth and that this has been successfully done in other genres—think The Usual Suspects [Blu-ray] for instance. I just don’t know if it is effective here, as there is nothing for me to hang my hat on or walk away with except a strange vague suspicion about something. And the thought that maybe, maybe this was her point… but I can’t be sure.

The big draw for this reading was seeing Chris Seibert and Raymond Bobgan acting together. It was worth it. If you’re on the fence about Springboard or this piece in particular: go and see it. With Beth Wood directing and Raymond and Chris starring it is something to see and be a part of.

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