Posts Tagged ‘Beth Wood’


March 6th, 2012 No comments

Antebellum @ CPT

Went and saw Antebellum last night at CPT. I was interested in the play largely because I’m working on one right now that has two similar stories taking place in different time periods and I was interested in this element of the play.  To this end I have read and seen Thomas Gibbon’s House with No Walls, and plan on reading Time of My Life by Alan Ayckbourn and Leah’s Train by Karen Hartman.  If anyone else knows of plays with multiple time periods represented, let me know.

I think O’Hara handled Antebellum, structurally, well enough. Having just finished reading A House with No Walls, which I saw at Karamu several years ago, I don’t think O’Hara did as well as Gibbons in terms of stage pictures, pacing, and scene/inter-scene movement.  There was one very nice moment at the end of the play when Edna/Gabriel is leaving the concentration camp and there is an immediate transition to the next time period (three or so years later) when Edna/Gabriel is leaving the plantation.  It was a great transition.  Another was when Edna and Gabriel are looking at each other in the “mirror” or in the future/past; although, again, it was not as powerful a moment as that of Oney Judge and Cadence Lane in HWNW.

I was never really clear on the genre of the play—not that it matters so much, but when a play keeps skipping genres you expect a certain type of play—Eric Overmyer or Len Jenkins come to mind—but this one jumped unintentionally, I think.  If not, it was unclear how the genres were being used. I was strongly certain that it was a drama, at the outset, that was going to address serious issues in a dramatic form.  As time passed, I felt that I was getting clobbered over the head by something that was not remotely as engaging as Brecht—but I was definitely kept from empathizing. As it wore further on, it felt like a melodrama (too often)—and by the end, when the THIRD gun was shot I was expecting a maiden hogtied at a railroad crossing with Baron von Schleicher and his evil black moustache to pop out with a wicked laugh.  There were musical elements, and elements that surely would have done better as pure black comedy—the Scarlet O’Hara wanna-be (Sarah Roca—played very well, as always, by Laurel Hoffman) coming on with a shotgun at the end, for instance.

Does the play raise important questions?  Sure. With all the things going on in the play, how could it not?  For instance, I have to admit that I never gave much thought to the similarity between Nazi Germany and the American South—or maybe just America, as I’m sure some Black Americans would point out; or to pre-war Germany and pre-Civil War America. But what does it mean for us today?  Hmmmm.  I think, if my hand were forced, I’d have to draw the comparison between the modern American and the character of Sarah Roca.  This character is so excited about a world premiere movie and having her dress made up and put on that she overlooks the depravity of the whole event (a celebration of Antebellum America—slaves and all).  And given that this is the title of the play, I’d have to believe that this is the direction that O’Hara (Robert, not Scarlet) is pointing us.  That is, there are grand cultural illusions at play and they rely on the subjugation and abuse of others–take a look at Food, Inc., as I just did, to see this issue playing out in our society today. In the terms of the play, it’s sort of a Gone with the Wind meets The Wind Done Gone. Grand illusions come before the war: before the “blood hate.” Unfortunately, this message, if this is even the message, it is just lost in the jumbling of often two-dimensional characters whose situations devolve into an overly melodramatic story with people ranting at each other.

The set was great, but the sound in the space made it very difficult to hear what was being said at the end opposite me (toward Parish Hall).  The costumes and lights were great, too. The actors delivered admirable performances, especially given the Southern accents, German language, singing, and other demands of the script; and Beth Wood kept it all moving along over a solid two-hours and twenty-minute show.

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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