note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Carl A. Rossi
The Boston University Theatre Department continues to turn out good, often great theatre, and they scored big time with their recent productions of David Mamet’s EDMOND and Eve Ensler’s NECESSARY TARGETS. Both played for only a few performances, and some may dismiss them as mere exercises, but each show racked up moments as professional as anything I’ve seen this year in the big league --- and for free, too. Top THAT!
Edmond … Brandon Murphy
Peep Show Girl/Woman … Rachel Chapman
B-Girl … Jillian Courtney
Bar Manager/Shill/Guard/Policeman/Customer … Derek Gallen
Man/Cardshark … Eric C. Gould
Man in Shop/Chaplain/Bartender/Bystander … Ian Gould
Glenna … Carly Helsaple
Wife … Anais Koivisto
Prisoner/Pimp … Luke Lionhart
Whore … Liz Pellini
Fortune Teller/Whorehouse Manager … Ruibo Qian
Preacher/Hotel Clerk … Michael Renehan
Pawnshop Owner/Interrogator/Leafletter … Robert Reyes
As you may know by now, I’m not a big fan of David Mamet, but --- surprise! --- I enjoyed his dark comedy EDMOND, both as play and production: Clay Hopper’s impressive staging, doubly so for a student director, featured a haunting performance from Brandon Murphy in the title role. “Poor” theatre at its best!
Going on a fortune teller’s pronouncement that he is not where Fate has meant him to be, Edmond, a modern-day Everyman in New York, leaves his wife and goes in search of his destiny. He heads for Times Square, where he encounters dregs of society who cheat, beat and take him for all he’s got. Edmond buys a survival knife and commits two murders; he is caught and sentenced. His mind cleared, his passion spent, Edmond finds his destiny in the arms of his black cellmate who sodomizes him --- ironically, he has traded one safe, restricted world for another. Mr. Mamet’s play is terribly dated (Time Square has long been purged of its riff-raff), but it still has legs that can kick you in the crotch, take your money, and run; it is also grimly amusing --- the students who attended chuckled delightedly; what is “Absurd” to us greybeards must seem everyday life to them.
Mr. Mamet’s script is composed of twenty-three scenes with no “Curtain” or “Black-Out” for transitions; here, a director’s vision must come into play. Mr. Hopper may have borrowed Eve Muson’s kaleidoscope from last year’s VENUS --- he, too, had his actors flying through time and space --- and linked those scenes together like beads on a very short string (those sixty minutes sped by). More people should have attended this EDMOND --- theatre people, in particular --- to see how excellent theatre can pop up in the unlikeliest places and when blessed (yes, blessed) with the most meager of budgets, especially when those places are cleverly used and those nickels and dimes are wisely spent. Mr. Hopper’s “stage” was a large rehearsal room in B.U.’s College of Fine Arts. If you are/were a college actor, you know those kind of rooms: old linoleum; industrial lights; exposed pipes; etc. Rather than spruce it all up, Mr. Hopper took full advantage of the shabbiness --- Room 354 became a Times Square of the mind; evoked, not represented. Rather than hide his actors behind screens, Mr. Hopper had them sitting along the walls like Furies, each one coming forward to push Edmond another step closer to his destiny. Paradoxically, the more artificial Mr. Hopper made his environment, the more real Edmond’s world became: when an entrance to a mission was required, the Preacher simply opened a door in the corner, revealing dusty black curtains within. The Peep-Show girl stood behind a scratched-up pane of glass, exposed by the harsh overhead lighting like a specimen in a jar. The Pimp, with his sly promises of procurement, walked Edmond around in a circle that closed on the point of Edmond’s knife --- and so on. At the end, when Edmond and his prison husband drifted off to sleep in their cell, the ensemble rose and exited by twos through that corner door and into the darkness; their work, done.
The student cast --- mostly sophomores, I was told --- were quite good; aside from Edmond, Mr. Mamet’s characters are cartoons, easily grasped by young actors. Mr. Hopper’s ear was well-tuned at bringing out the SOUNDS of Mamet’s zoo, especially those of the female inhabitants: the Wife’s vacillating between Jung and Emily Post; the Fortuneteller’s epic solemnity; the Whore’s bored recitation of things men love to hear; the Waitress’ wound-up jitteriness. So many clever bits flickered between the lines of Mr. Mamet’s garish dialogue: for example, Edmond entered the hotel and rang for the clerk. Nothing. He rang again. Nothing. He rang again. A sour-faced Clerk approached and silenced the bell with a well-aimed finger. The two men regarded each other for a moment, then their conversation began. You won’t find that “bit” on the printed page; Mr. Hopper put it there, and it was exquisitely timed. My favorite moment (and it was a stunner) was when Edmond first ventured out into the world, slowly approaching the audience as if in a trance while the ensemble swirled about him like snow, hurrying hither and yon, back and forth, back and forth, orchestrated by the sounds of traffic and their own clicking heels. That’s New York, all right.
EDMOND’s centerpiece, of course, was Brandon Murphy, who continues to surprise me with each role he takes on: his hapless Edmond was as removed from his courtly Emperor Joseph II in AMADEUS (which garnered him an “Addison”) as his Emperor Joseph II was as removed from the rumpled, tyrannical father of DEALER’S CHOICE. Each of these roles came out of different drawers, so to speak, yet the bureau itself is/was still Mr. Murphy. I’ll wager that if Mr. Murphy hasn’t already found his “center” (the source of his artistry), he instinctively knows where that hallway is where all his future portraits hang. Tall and gangly, slated for character roles, Mr. Murphy’s work is deceptively simple; only good training, trust in a director and complete immersion in a role can make this kind of play-acting look so relaxed and effortless. Of course, I could be wrong (I often am); perhaps Mr. Murphy has merely been lucky with his roles and directors thus far, but I will say this: he has yet to take a false step whenever he’s onstage.
As written, Edmond comes off as a ticking time bomb; between the Messrs. Hopper and Murphy, their Edmond was the exact opposite: a rudderless innocent drifting through the neon jungle; a man so repressed that he registers as a blank --- no wonder he foolishly heads for Time Square, of all places: he wants to be COLORED IN! A ticking Edmond would make the play’s violence all too predictable; when Mr. Murphy’s loose-limbed Edmond erupted, the violence gathered and came out of nowhere --- a heaped marionette suddenly snapped to attention --- his words and actions were those of a timid soul imitating how a Real Man should speak and act. After his two big spasms, he went slack again (red light from above trembled on his blade). If the DEALER’S CHOICE father was an oak tree, convincingly middle-aged, Mr. Murphy’s Edmond (a staring child) was its leaf, blown about the streets and coming to rest in a prison cell.
And all of this happened for a few nights in a shabby room --- for free.
JS … Jennifer Robinson
Melissa … Hannah Grady
Jelena … Lisa Grossman
Zlata … Robyn Levine
Nuna … Bevin O’Gara
Seada … Bonnie Kathleen Discepolo
Azra … Rochelle Rickoff
Meanwhile, downstairs in the B.U. Theatre Lab --- a charming little pocket theatre --- Nina Pleasants balanced Mr. Mamet’s celebration of misguided machismo with Eve Ensler’s NECESSARY TARGETS; as close to a modern-day TROJAN WOMEN as we may get.
In her first new work since THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES, Ms. Ensler tells of two American women, J.S., a successful but unfulfilled psychiatrist and Melissa, a troubled human rights worker, who go to Bosnia to help its women confront their memories of war. They encounter five survivors, each with an untapped story to tell: Zlata, an embittered doctor; Seada, a young woman living in shock; Nuna, who sees America as the Great Good Place; Jelena, battered by her husband as well as the war; and Azra, an old woman who misses her beloved cow. As J.S. begins to feel compassion for these women, the professional giving way to the personal, she clashes with the more Spartan Melissa, who sees the women as little more than material for a book. The two Americans go their separate ways, but J.S. may soon return to Bosnia, for she has reached a common ground with its women, learning as well as teaching. NECESSARY TARGETS is a gripping drama with one flaw --- the focus is not on the Bosnian women but on J.S. and Melissa’s reactions to them; thus, no matter how much Zlata, Seada, Nuna, Jelena, Azra touch us with their tragedies, they remain the fascinating and pitiable Other held at arm’s length, and J.S.’s final monologue comes from the “there I was, dear reader” school of Sincere Journalism. What a better play this would have been had Ms. Ensler lopped off the prologue and epilogue and set her play completely in Bosnia, with J.S. and Melissa cast as the Other!
That said, I was sincerely moved by this production: Nina Pleasants seems to have directed with a clenched fist, pounding honest, unflinching characterizations out of her young cast: the accents and body rhythms were securely in place and America and Bosnia were well contrasted --- the Bosnian women were earthy, stoic, with a peasant affection and wit, whereas J.S. evoked concrete and steel and Melissa was a tumbleweed. I was especially pleased with Jennifer Robinson as the iceberg who thaws, light-years better than her hysterical Helen in last year’s MACHINAL; and she was solidly supported by Robyn Levine, who was finally given a role of substance --- her Zlata was a coiled snake of resentment; by Bonnie Kathleen Discepolo (Seada), who stopped the world, let alone the show, with her breakdown, a beautifully orchestrated, well-thought out execution; and Rochelle Rickoff as the comical Azra (and a convincing-enough old woman, too).
No scenic designer was listed in the program, but the collection of furniture and props were so professionally arranged that I must thank the elves who put it all together. Thank you.
This show, too, was open to the public and, to my surprise, a good number of adults as well as students attend. Do consider attending B.U.’s next round of productions later this semester: COMPANY; HAY FEVER; and CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF. I plan to --- I have seen the future!