entire contents copyright 1995 by Larry Stark
REVIEWED 25 August, '95 Copyright 1995 by Larry Stark A PERFECT GANESH by Terrence McNally Dircted by Judy Braha for THE NORA THEATRE COMPANY Sets designed by Michael Auszura, Costumes designed by Amelia Baksic, Mask and Puppets designed by Libby Marcus. Ganesh........................Christopher Kauffman Margaret Civil...........................Mary Klug Katharine Brynne.......................Deena Mazer All other male roles................Stephen Benson
The Nora Theatre Company has carved a three-quarter-round playing space out of a steamy upstairs room of the Harvard Freshman Union on Quincy Street just off Harvard Yard. Judy Braha has crammed that wooden O with a moving theatrical experience involving sensitive acting, evocative staging, lightning scene- changes, and a two-act excursion into contemporary character analysis and mythology by America's best living serious playwright.
The play concerns a two-week tour of India by two Connecticut matrons with empty nests, indifferent husbands, and painful memories of the deaths of sons. They are life-long friends who don't really like each other very much, but they come to know each other --- and themselves --- through their one grudging, one embracing examination of the heat, the poverty, the humanity and the all-accepting philosophy of the Asian subcontinent.
In this production, Deena Mazer emerges as the major figure Katherine Brynne --- a mother still coming to terms with the murder of a son whose life-style she could not condone. Mazer makes her an exhuberantly open-minded seeker willing to take chances and to accept the reality she sees about her and, ultimately, even within herself.
Mary Klug contrasts this with a Margaret Civil more reserved, conventional, more motherly, and ultimately more resigned and accepting. She had endured her personal pain much longer, and with much less willingness to seek consolation from others. Their contrasting reactions to just about ewverything, including what they learn about each other, is at the core of this very complicated little play.
But the most obvious motor of the action is Ganesh, the tubby elephant-headed Indian god of wisdom, prudence, acceptance, and human love. Under Libby Marcus' bright red trunked, tusked, wide- eared mask, Christopher Kauffman is narrator, commentator, player of parts, witness, magical stage-magician, and yet --- always --- a compassionate yet detached god working enigmatically for the possible best for all.
Everyone else is played by Stephen Benson, in a chameleon- like cornucopia of total costume-changes, character-changes, accent-changes, style-changes and attitude-changes. This kaleidoscope of quick sketches, in contrast with the roles that Christopher Kauffman's Ganesh assumes, must be bang-on complete, totally part of the current scene, and completely utilitarian. It is a wonder that any one actor could do as many quick-change walk- ons with as much variety as Benson achieves. (If he has a real "role" to his name, it's the apparition of Katherine's murdered son; but one quickly adjusts to a "cast of thousands" played by the same actor!)
As an ex-stagehand, I must compliment Production Stage- Manager Diane Angeline and her running-crew for the many crisply efficient full-view scene changes that this quick, episodic show demanded. And Michael Auszure's sets, Eve Simon's lights, and Amela Baksic's costumes are equally professional additions to the total effect, their most obvious sign of success being that they add to the whole effect while never upstaging anything.
But, behind it all there is Terrence McNally's script, jumping o'er times, turning th' accomplishment of weeks into an hourglass of significant, soul-stretching moments. It's a story the stage really shouldn't contain --- in fact, program notes suggest that McNally is doing a screen adaptation for a Merchant- Ivory film in which, no doubt, two dozen different actors will do what Stephen Benson, every night here in Cambridge, does on that hot second-floor playspace. But, if you can become one of the sell-out crowds within that wooden O, that film will have to be awfully good to eclipse your memories of this play.
A PERFECT GANESH, by Terrence McNally presented by The Nora Theatre Company at THEATRE AT THE UNION Corner of Quincy & Harvard Streets, CAMBRIDGE 491-2026