Posts Tagged ‘Laurel Johnson’


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.

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.

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