Thursday, May 6, 2010

"You take my breath away..."

Tuesday, May 4, 2010 7:00 PM

by Sheila Callaghan
directed by Daniella Topol
with Rob Campbell, Dana Eskelson,
Ronete Levenson, and Elisabeth Waterston

The last time I sat in the theater on West 55th that makes a home for The Women’s Project I saw a whimsical and campy piece by the legendary Virginia Woolf. The most recent production now gracing the old stage is quite different. The play itself is amazing, an awkward love parallelogram between August, Daphne, Liza and a character named Boy that is steeped in Greek tragic tradition and American angst. The time is very specific: November of 1980 when idealist hearts broke upon the landslide election of Ronald Reagan,(more about “landslides” in a second). The place is a non-descript Greek island in the Mediterranean Sea which comes as near to utopia as Western thought can bring you. On this island, we find August played by the delightfully swarthy and satyr-like Rob Campbell, an ex-sixties radical hippie rabble-rouser who long ago lost his copy of Das Capital. Instead of leading workers to revolution, August has become a worker of the land and a farmer whose crop is a rare varietal with which he hopes to produce a legendary bottle of fine wine. His young wife Daphne, played to Goddess-like perfection by the radiant Elizabeth Waterston, is bearing their child. To complete this incredibly idyllic male fantasy, a girl named Boy shares the confines of their family vineyard into which August has married. Ronete Levenson as Boy is perhaps the most lascivious thing in Lascivious Something being about as taboo and inappropriate as it gets. She is the embodiment of unbridled passion, her looks, her body language her speech (all in Greek) evoke the reckless impulsiveness of youth. Into this seeming Garden of Eden strides Liza, a crazy-maker of legendary proportions played deftly by the beautiful Dana Eskelson. Liza is an ex-lover and cohort from Augusts’ war protesting past, a ferocious lioness with a mane and a propensity for biting to match.

Together this foursome unravels a tale of wine, politics, and tragedy. The lines about Greece and her money problems are almost prescient. Sheila Callaghan is a playwright who employs what my wife terms “magical realism”. Her characters in Lascivious Something wax poetic. Some of the most important scenes in the play have alternate endings. This repetitive device is jarring at first, but you soon get the hang of it. This first playing of the scene will be wildly inappropriate with real intentions and reactions of the characters’ truthful feelings revealed. The second playing of the scene gives a more reasonable reading and moves the play forward. Callaghan uses film genre methods in her plays ala Paula Vogel in Hot and Throbbing, but in a more subtle and challenging way. She employed similar techniques to great effect in her Pretty, Pretty or the Rape Play staged here in New York last year. Lascivious Something has been around since 2002 and had a run in L.A. earlier this year with a different cast. That production featured full frontal female nudity, which this one here does not.

One major problem I have with the New York production is the set by Marsha Ginsberg which is elaborate and seems shoe-horned into the old Julia Miles Theater. The retaining walls of crushed stone and wire-mesh are foreboding and overpowering. The stone beneath the actors’ feet shift and move as they walk over them and the entire set threatens to avalanche into the first rows of the audience. It makes an otherwise large stage seem crowded and difficult to navigate for the actors not to mention the constant thoughts about the structural stability of the stage holding all that weight. Intimacy may have been the goal here, but it is hard to believe anything can grow on such a rocky place.

Be all that as it may, this is a beautiful production which ideally should move to a larger house. We are still talking about it.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Passion of the Christ...sort of...


IRONDALE, 85 South Oxford Street, Fort Greene, Brooklyn

This is actually three plays with the same premise: A behind the scenes look at a troupe of actors rehearsing and performing the classic Passion of Jesus Christ at three specific times in history: one being Elizabethan England, the second Hitler’s Germany and finally Reagan’s America.

What an experience, we went on Sunday, the perfect day for a Passion, though early spring would have made more sense. The play itself must be seen to be judged. I enjoyed most of the 3 hours and 30 minutes with two intermissions. However, the last act was a tad cliché with the Viet Nam vet suffering from PTSD. Be that as it may: The actors are amazing; the props gorgeous, perhaps this is a bit of an “actors” play in that there are a few esoteric jokes about theatre. Nevertheless, the point of this play is how the origin of theater itself is always with us in communion. It is also is about how monarchies, fascism and capitalism have just about hijacked theater (and religion?) as the world once knew it while attempting to co-opt them for their own purposes. Sarah Ruhl is one of our favorite playwrights at the moment, she also wrote “In the Next room…or the Vibrator play” which was staged on Broadway this season. The Irondale Center is a jewel in Fort Greene. This is a great find. Traditional companies focusing on Shakespeare might want to check this space out.

VIDEO: "Passion Play" Rises
How Epic Theatre brought Sarah Ruhl's new play to a Brooklyn Church