A Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Approaching Moomtaj"

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note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Larry Stark

"Approaching Moomtaj...
a fairytale for grownups"

by Michael Weller
Directed by Rick Lombardo

Scenic Design by Janie E. Howland
Lighting Design by Daniel Meeker
Costume Design by Frances Nelson McSherry
Original Music by Haddon Kime
Multimedia Design by Dorian Des Lauriers
Sound Design by Haddon Kime & Rick Lombardo
Violence Design by Robert Walsh
Production Stage Manager Cheryl D. Olszowka

Walker Dance/Sir William Powers...Robert Prescott
Kelly Dance/Queen Aunt Noor.........Rachel Harker
A Bakht...............................Kevin Topka
Faith Cherubini/Fatma...............Natalie Brown
Madeline/Mawan......................Lordan Napoli
Josh Dance/Boy.......................Jacob Brandt
Wylie Dance/Sufi Sid................Thomas Derrah

There's simply too damn much in this production for any review to cover it all ... from the script to the performances to the sets to the sonic accompaniment to the relevence to the state of today's lives. And people who have seen it a second time say it's an even deeper experience that way. I'll do my best to talk about what I happened to find in it myself. What did you find there?

For me a scene well into the first act, in which a computer-startup corporation's owner admits to his psychiatrist that he knew his businesswoman-wife had had an appointment in The Towers that day, but when standing in the dust of that disaster all he felt was --- Free! He's ashamed of that admission, but trying to come to terms with what it means about his marriage. She's still alive months after that day, by the way, but even during the play's first scene of her churlishly setting off on a business-trip, her poor husband is having "episodes" --- seeing fantasy-people that aren't there when he tries to point them out to her. I'm willing to accept the later scenes in Moomtaj --- the country of Moom --- as dreams or fantasies that concentrate and explicate his state of mind. In a play Michael Weller wrote thirty-some years ago he had a habit (and still does here) of letting one character spin what must be outlandishly absurd self-inflating lies --- that turn out to be dead solid true. That character here is the suited family-man's post-Hippy let-it-all-hang-out brother who appeared after eight absent years to crash for a week --- more than a month ago. His shadowy career as a hyper-intensive computer games programmer is the reason Janie E. Howland's plexiglass-panelled set is backed and flanked by Dorian Des Lauriers' astonishing multimedia projections. He may also have created a "game" that can solve any person's inner needs and establish universal world peace.
I'd like to believe that's true, but I don't. Yet...

Two more details: our hero had an offer to sell his company for four mil that fell through when the dot-com boom dried after 9-11 and he's deciding to sue for breach of promise. He's also had a recreational-sex affair in Seattle with a professional cellist ("the woman I always expected to spend my life with") who's moving to Brooklyn and wants to concretize what's been merely casual.

And, in the middle of all this is a seven-year-old son who at one point calmly confronts his no-longer-shouting parents with "So you hate each other; is dinner ready?" and, just befoe mom takes him off for "a visit to grammom's" that might be permanent, his one dejected comment is "Dad, DO Something!"

Okay, now it's time to talk about the excellent performances --- and to do it I want to point out the incredibly revealing names Michael Weller has given his characters:
I mean, the richly bewildered protagonist played by tall Robert Prescott is called Walker Dance. Revealing in Spades, isn't it! Yet when he spends time in his Moomtaj fantasy people call him Sir William Powers, and everyone expects him to Solve All Their Problems!
Weller has named the shrink Natalie Brown plays with aloof directness Faith Cherubini; Lordan (a k a Laura) Napoli, whose toes alone define her character, is referred to as "Maddy" (actually Madeline), Jacob Brandt's kid is called Josh Dance, while his uncle (okay, Half-uncle) is of course Wylie Dance --- and when he, in a flawlessly-timed tour de force from Tomas Derrah, steps out of Moomtaj he's called Sufi Sid! Rachel Harker's nearly castrating wife is Kelly Dance, but her flighty counterpart is Queen Aunt Noor. And all of them have second-characters in an intricate Moomtaj sub-plot that only occasionally slip into American slang-speak while their story comments on Walker's life and problems.
There is one actor who is purely Moom. Kevin Topka plays a powerful, menacing Bakht ("slave") who looks like a bare-chested Persian Mike Tyson with a scimitar with no mind whatsoever, and there are several scenes he steals just by appearing.

The movement of two square, transparent chairs, Frances Nelson McSherry's spot-on costumes for both realms, and the quicksilver character-changes of the actors keep this richly complicated story flowing in quick-cuts from scene to scene. No doubt Director Rick Lombardo had something to do with the smoothness and the clarity with which everything unfolds.

And that's all I'll say, because this is just MY take on a show that could strike you as totally different, but no less engrossing. No review can possibly prepare you for what you will see on the New Rep stage. I may read some other reviewers' attempts to wrestle with explaining this World Premier --- I'm told Carl Rossi was sitting two rows behind me --- but their reviews, like this one, will only scratch the surface. You will have to travel to Newton Highlands for the full, rewarding experience.


"Approaching Moomtaj" (15 September - 17 October)
NEW REPERTORY THEATRE
54 Lincoln Street, NEWTON HIGHLANDS, MA
1 (617) 332-7058


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