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The Internationalist at convergence

December 2nd, 2011 No comments

Gunplay in a strange land

Gunplay in a strange land; photo Cory Molner.

I went and saw The Internationalist (Anne Washburn) last night at convergence and was quite happy with seeing it. I was a bit worried initially as I read a New York Times theater review of the play and, while the reviewer was clearly interested in the play it was not favorable review. In fact, it put a bit of fear in me that I was going to endure yet another evening of theater that was so-so. But, as I mentioned at the outset, I was happily surprised and engaged by it.

The plot loosely follows the character Lowell (Tom Kondilas) who has come from the United States to a strange and unknown/undisclosed country on business. Lowell is suffering from jet lag, cannot speak the language in the country, and suffers certain impudent assumptions about his character based on his being from the ole US of A. While the plot follows Lowell’s experiences, many of which are strange, the plot also dallies with the sexual relationship between Lowell and Sara (Laurel Hoffman). In many instances the play takes on a sort of Noir detective feel that is pleasantly enhanced by Laurel Hoffman’s costuming, Clyde Simon’s set design, and certainly Lisa L. Wiley’s light design.

Much of my concern at seeing the piece was over the various “rumors” I had heard all over the place describing the unintelligible sections/swaths of text. The sections are provided when the “natives” are speaking their language. When talking with Clyde after the show, he spoke of how massive the swaths of this text are and how there is no stage direction provided as to what to do with the text. Given this fact, I can say unabashedly the Clyde did a fantastic job in directing the piece as he turned these huge chunks of strangeness into very meaningful sections: sections with grace, urgency, energy, even genuine emotion and longing. Laurel Hoffman did, predictably, a fantastic job with her role and is always worth seeing. The massive sections of glossolalia that she has to spit out are spit out with an astonishing fluency. God knows how much time she spent working it out and my mind laughingly speculates on Laurel and Geoff at home of an evening speaking this language together around the fireplace. (Congratulations to them on their marriage as well!) But, in truth, every one of the actors did a fantastic job with the gibberish that Washburn crafted, as did Clyde. Especially Clyde. I have not read the play so I do not know what is or is not in the stage directions, but according to Clyde there is nothing to give direction to the massive swaths of foreignness that reign on stage. Clyde does a great job with providing not only an interpretation of the text, but offering the audience an opportunity to understand it. These sections prove again and again that theater is a visual medium as much as an aural and logically crafted one. Much of what is understood during these strange sections is understood by watching the physical interaction between the characters/actors and how they physically manifest the text. Handled poorly, these sections would become a real drag. They were NOT handled poorly. Ray Caspio, as James for instance, does a masterful job telling a story/joke in Washburn’s gibberish, gesticulating all the while to make it clear what is going on. Caspio is equally worth seeing in his role as the Ancient Bartender, in this role I took no end of delight in watching his rickety tottering, the manner in which he meticulously maintained the lanky rigidness of the aged Nazi-poisoner.

The play itself consists of a thin plot about the goings on in a foreign company which Lowell has come to work for/with. His relationship to the company is unclear, but he seems to be some sort of financial manager slash troubleshooter. The goings-on in the company are complicated by his sexual tryst with Sara, who announces herself as a “colleague” when she picks Lowell up at the airport. This turns into trouble later when Lowell discovers that she is a secretary rather than “an equal” in terms of position, salary, etc. Interspersed with this story are various episodes, the strangest of which is Lowell’s encounter with a prostitute on the street. Some of these episodes are not materially relevant to the plot, perhaps, but add significant texture to the play. I say “perhaps” because it is not clear precisely what the plot of the play is. This is where, I think, the New York Times review was the toughest on Washburn, and perhaps rightly so. Is the story about Lowell’s experience in a strange land? Is it about the company that Lowell is working for? Is it about his relationship with Sara? Is it about his strange experience in a foreign land? In the end, it is likely about all of these things, but I believe Washburn is aiming mostly as the sense of strangeness that comes with being out of place: locations are disjointed/distorted, cultural practices are distorted, language is distorted, and even scenes are oddly shaped and distorted. Having read Washburn’s play Apparition: An Uneasy Play of the Underknown in New Downtown Now, it is clear that she likes to experiment with what is vague, indistinct, and unclear–as well as what may be eerie to some. In The Internationalist, Washburn explores this region again and places the audience in a location where nothing is ever explicit or certain as demonstrated by the conclusion of the play (which I won’t spoil here).

The cast of The Internationalist at concon is fantastic, including Laura Starnik, Geoff Hoffman, and Robert Hawkes, who is wonderful in his dual roles as both Simon and Paul. The play is definitely worth seeing and runs through Saturday, December 17.

Dark Ride is a Kick-ass Ride at convergence

May 21st, 2010 No comments

The Translator is Surrounded

The Translator is Surrounded

I went and saw the preview for Len Jenkin’s Dark Ride last night at The Liminis and it was a blast. The final mantra of the play “I’m not interested in philosophy. Just tell me how it ends,” is fitting considering so many of the characters have a philosophy to espouse, which each offers freely.

The list of characters is considerable and fittingly odd for the B-movie that the play emulates. Very like The Mummy, or The Wolfman, as strange and eclectic a collection of characters as you’re likely to see tramps across the stage: a jeweler, a thief, a general, an explorer/scientist, a writer and publisher of sublime publications, a translator, a former carnival owner turned line chef and his wife—and each of them is questing for something: love, sanity, a jewel, a way out.

I have become fascinated by Jenkin recently and have read Limbo Tales, Dark Ride, and My Uncle Sam. These are considered a trilogy of plays that Jenkin views a leading to a positive view of life (originating in the rather darkly humorous Limbo Tales). Jenkin explores theatrical space and how characters behave on stage in very innovative ways. For instance, this exchange:

I’m still reading the menu to see if I made a mistake…and this guy comes out of the kitchen wearing this white apron, and he slides into the seat across from me.

Hello, Slick.

He says.

Got a cigarette?

I give him one and he says

Thanks. You new here?

Then I just look at him, and he looks at me, and then he goes away.

And all of this reading like a Dashiell Hammett novel or something. But genres change fast in this play: alternating from detective fiction, to horror, to cheap romance in the wink of an eye–all done up in B-movie grandeur.

Jenkin’s play is perfect for convergence and they do it very well. Director Geoff Hoffman keeps the pace fast and tight, and I was very surprised about the difference between the reading time of this play and its run time. A large part of this has to do with the good performances, but most of it has to do with Hoffman’s pacing and sense of stage balance. Interpretations of Jenkin’s vague stage directions are taken full advantage of and Hoffman maximizes both energy and the dark comedic undertones of this play to create a mind-boggling spectacle. Interventions by ambient sound, use of video, off-stage interjections, volatile stage entrances and exits, and fantastic (periodic) stage tableaux make this a run worth seeing over and over, which I intend to do.

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