Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Tooth and Claw"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2005 by Carl A. Rossi


"TOOTH AND CLAW"

by Michael Hollinger
directed and designed by David J. Miller

Gonzalo Reyes … Juan Luis Acevedo
Ana Ortega … Nydia Calón
Schuyler Baines … Lisa Morse
Carlos Zavala … Luis Negrón
Malcolm Geary … Ed Peed
Tour Guide; Chorus … Christopher Barnard
Mendoza; Tour Guide … Diego Estevam Ribeìro
Jorge; Chorus … Alejandro Simoes
Tito; Chorus … Amar Srivastava
Park Official; Chorus … Xavier Torres

Boston has discovered Michael Hollinger as well as Richard Greenberg, this season: there have been productions of his medieval farce INCORRUPTIBLE (Vokes Theatre) and his film-noir parody RED HERRING (Lyric Stage) and the Stoneham Theatre was to have staged AN EMPTY PLATE IN THE CAFÉ DU GRAND BOEUF but has swapped it for Neil Simon’s THE SUNSHINE BOYS, instead. Mr. Hollinger’s fascinating new drama TOOTH AND CLAW (Zeitgeist Stage), based on true events, is all about evolution (its title comes from an oft-quoted line in Tennyson’s “In Memoriam”) --- it also shows how nicely Mr. Hollinger is evolving, himself. The setting is the Galapagos Islands in the 1990s: Schuyler Baines, an outspoken American biologist, has been appointed the director of the Charles Darwin Research Station; her personal mission is to save the endangered giant tortoise. At first Schulyer believes the problem lies with the overpopulation of the islands’ goats who are eating away the tortoises’ natural diet but the problem is deeper and more complex: the impoverished fisherman have been illegally harvesting sea cucumbers and selling them to Asian markets as a Viagra substitute --- they, too, are starving out the tortoises as well as stripping the ocean floor which, in turn, will have dire environmental consequences if left unchecked. Schulyer tries to rearrange the pieces of the Galapagos puzzle but runs up against walls from all sides: the fishermen take to slaughtering tortoises in protest; Schuyler’s secretary suggests that, evolution-wise, the tortoises’ days may be over (they are not fit enough to survive on their own) and, besides, what do they give back to Man compared to the targeted goats who provide milk, meat and wool?

Mr. Hollinger has written a solid, well-researched play that, like the recent LIVING OUT, is indebted to television (i.e. its topicality is easily digestible and Schuyler is, deep down, a little girl who never knew her father). There is nothing wrong with an evening of talking heads provided they are thought-provoking and those in TOOTH AND CLAW certainly are; it is when Mr. Hollinger goes theatrical that he stumbles: the Zeitgeist floor is painted as a map of the Galapagos Islands, all gold and blue; Malcolm Geary, a retired British scientist gone native, wanders throughout as commentator/earth father, assisted by five actors as various symbolisms (including a risible reenactment of El Niño) --- an engrossing, detailed confrontation between two characters suddenly switches to giants encircling the planet. Two nitpiks: one character is openly relaxed about his homosexuality; how can he have “evolved” in such a primitive society? (What does he do for sex --- buy it from the fishermen?) Also, is it possible to write a play where a pregnant woman does NOT go into labor when a crisis occurs?

Lisa Morse is excellent as Schulyer. Just as Mr. Hollinger defines Schulyer by her thoughts and deeds, Ms. Morse, in turn, creates a seamless, likeable characterization by not thinking about it --- she has too much to say and do without striking poses or wondering about her appearance (when she announces she has just tested a tortoise’s genitals, you believe her); in her closing scenes, Ms. Morse reveals an attractive Shakespearean nobility which, hopefully, will lead her to Shakespearean heroines though THE MOUSETRAP (Stoneham Theatre) is next on her list. Ms. Morse is matched by Juan Luis Acevedo and Nydia Calón who also disappear into their roles as members of Schulyer’s staff, capturing the boredom, resentment and acquiescence found in an office environment. Ed Peed is a wonderfully owlish character actor; at first I felt his Dickensian Malcolm was out of sync with the docudrama style but Mr. Peed moves beyond surface eccentricity to reveal the heartbeat behind the biologist’s calling --- to be the caretaker of God’s earth rather than its dominator --- and just as Ms. Morse’s Schuyler galvanizes her staff and the fishermen with her non-stop vibrancy, she, in turn, warms and softens in Mr. Peed’s benevolent presence. (Acting is not just an art --- it is also a chain of relationships among its players.) In last year’s OUR LADY OF 121st STREET Luis Negrón was compelling as a flawed, frustrated New Yorker, regardless of background; I hope Mr. Negrón will not merely evolve into the Good Latino --- his Carlos Zavala, similar to his understanding husband in LIVING OUT, is pleasant but neutral. Amar Srivastava snarled his way through the recent HOMEBODY/KABUL; as one of the outraged fisherman, Mr. Srivastava does more of the same. He, too, deserves to move up the casting ladder.

"Tooth and Claw" (29 April-21 May)
ZEITGEIST STAGE COMPANY
Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 933-8600

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