Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Remuda" till 8 February and "Virtual Reality / Observatory Conditions"**** till 1 February

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Carl A. Rossi

"REMUDA"

by William Donnelly

directed by Heather McNamara

Craig … James Henderson
Keith … Zac Springer
Fay … Ava Geffen

Should the woman who sat next to me at Samuel Beckett’s WAITING FOR GODOT ever attend Industrial Theatre’s revival of William Donnelly’s REMUDA, she may declare, “Now, THIS I ‘get’! I KNOW these kids! I KNOW their boredom, and their not wanting to do anything! REMUDA makes perfect sense to me!” Would her clear skies cloud up again if Mr. Donnelly’s rudderless lads are transferred to Mr. Beckett’s wasteland with its blasted tree and lonely rock? But I’m closing the circle before I’ve even begun it….

Mr. Donnelly tells of two twentyish brothers, Craig and Keith, who dwell in their father’s basement (their Godot-like father communicates with them through clipped notes slid down a string). Thanks to their winning a good chunk of money from the lottery, Craig and Keith live a life of leisure, which consists of old magazines, video games, take-out, and going outdoors as little as possible. Their back-to-the-womb existence is disrupted by Fay, an outgoing woman their father has been dating unbeknownst to them; she descends (wearing Virgin Mary-blue cowboy boots) to ply the lads with donuts, cinnamon rolls, toaster pastries, cupcakes and turnovers --- and sex. The clutter of Fay’s life, one of gut-instinct decisions and trial-and-error experiences, provokes Craig and Keith into realizing how safe but empty their own lives have become.

In his program notes, playwright Bill Lattanzi cites here a Shepard, there a Pinter, everywhere a Mamet, Mamet, but he has left out Mr. Beckett as an influence on REMUDA (the first of Mr. Donnelly’s plays I have seen). Not only would my GODOT neighbor “get” REMUDA, she may also be amazed at how well Mr. Donnelly has captured the listlessness, the apathy of the younger generation (a sector of them, I should say), and he has done it gently and with a generous dose of quirky --- dare I say Absurdist? --- humor (there IS hope for Craig and Keith, at play’s end). My only nitpiks are the multiple blackouts which fracture the monotony instead of building and sustaining it (the blue light between scenes may keep the actors from barking their shins, but our seeing two particular exits when we shouldn’t kills the surprise of two entrances), and Act Two falters when the Plot must kick in --- instead of the current ending, what if Fay simply goes back upstairs, washing her hands of the brothers, while Craig breaks out a new video game and Keith telephones for sesame noodles?

Several weeks ago, Huntington director Darko Tresnjak started the New Year with a bang with his spellbinding storybook, THE BLUE DEMON; here, Heather McNamara just as brilliantly implodes with her direction of REMUDA, and her accomplishment is all the more impressive when you visualize Mr. Donnelly’s words on the page ­ some directors would glance through his grunts and scratches, decide there’s nothing going on here, and toss it aside; Ms. McNamara, however, has gathered all the sounds together to create an anti-score for today’s ears; leisurely, but never flagging --- there may be little music to be heard, even in its arias, but I wasn’t bored for an instant. (Now, what would Ms. McNamara do with two tramps waiting by the side of a country road….?)

Ms. McNamara has reassembled the cast from last year’s production (which I didn’t see); their familiarity with Mr. Donnelly’s work and each other gave the current production a mellowness, a depth on Opening Night that brand new productions would envy: I believed these two young men were brothers, alternating between comradeship and rivalry, mutual support and mutual dependence, and that they have long been living in their father’s basement. As the long-lost children of Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon, James Henderson (Craig) and Zac Springer (Keith) are marvelous. To praise one is to slight the other, for each actor has a different job to do --- and he does it well (they’re like two birds, really: Mr. Henderson with his staring owl’s face and open mouth, and Mr. Springer’s bantam, ever scratching and pecking for that elusive Worm of Truth). It’s a tricky thing for a young actor (or, for that matter, his playwright) to capture the malaise of his own generation sans fore- or hindsight; but Mr. Henderson has done it purely and simply sans imitation or caricature: his Craig, a bit of a “duh” at first acquaintance, grows more and more compelling by his remoteness --- he’s a smart young man who went out West, encountered a Void of sorts, and came back East to hide for the rest of his life. (Amusing, sort of, in one his age; sad, in someone much older.) Mr. Henderson is even convincing when it comes to Craig pulling rank over his younger brother; he may be a quiet soul, but you can’t uproot him. You could say that Mr. Henderson “takes” and Mr. Springer “gives” in their onstage rapport; indeed, Mr. Springer’s Keith wouldn’t be as effective were he handed anything less than Mr. Henderson’s monolith to bounce his ball against: all of Keith’s moods --- smart alecky; affectionate; irritated --- comes from his having an intractable big brother and, as little brothers tend to imitate their big ones, trotting after him into Ennui. (Craig has seen the Void; Keith has only a postcard of it.) Ava Geffen is a dark, handsome Fay, but the former is a cello and the later is a flute (last year, I saw Ms. Geffen in the title role of the Industrial’s FEFU AND HER FRIENDS, and the results were the same). Rather than being spontaneous, messy and life-affirming, Ms. Geffen’s Fay comes off as guarded and calculating --- you sense she’s coming down those stairs to deliver more than just baked goods; especially when it comes to tattoos.

You may want to come early to study all the details of Ron De Marco’s wonderfully convincing basement setting, set inside a black proscenium box like a museum exhibit (“Basement Apartment, Late 20th Century” would be its legend). Aside from being oddly immaculate --- no dirty dishes or leftovers are scattered about --- the set has a believable, lived-in look; a peek inside the brothers’ bedroom reveals a “Taxi Driver” wall poster and a wedge of unmade mattress that makes you wonder when was the last time it saw clean sheets).

NOTE: The cinnamon rolls that Fay feeds Craig and Keith look scrumptious --- where did they come from?

"VIRTUAL REALITY"

by Alan Arkin

directed by Kim Anton

De Recha … Jason Myatt
Lefty … Jason Yaitanes

"OBSERVATORY CONDITIONS"

by Kate Snodgrass

directed by Jerry Bisantz

Eleanor … Sheila Rehrig
Nickie … Jacqueline Maher
Michael … Stephen Collins

If my GODOT neighbor took the train with me into Waltham to see the Hovey Theatre’s production of Alan Arkin’s VIRTUAL REALITY, she would point and whisper, “A-ha! BECKETT!” and she would be right, at least in terms of influence: Mr. Arkin has written a Beckett-like exercise for two men on a bare stage: De Recha and Lefty, two hired men, wait for instructions and crates for a Big Job. Not only do they not know what the job is or even what are in the crates, they are complete strangers to each other. To pass the time, they act out what they think will be in the crates, and illusion gives way to reality (complete with sound effects). I “got” it all right but felt nothing: GODOT is a play; VIRTUAL REALITY, a sketch, and I was soon counting the minutes for the punch line, the payoff, the blackout, which slipped farther and farther away the more the men rooted through crates that weren’t there. The two Jasons (Myatt and Yaitanes) proved more adept at verbal sparring than their playing with air --- for all his minimalism, Mr. Beckett at least provides real carrots and turnips for Estragon to chew on.

The second play on the bill, Kate Snodgrass’ OBSERVATORY CONDITIONS, though not at all Absurd, did turn Beckettesque for me --- I had to leave halfway through the performance to catch the last train back to Boston; for all I know, Ms. Snodgrass’ astronomer and the young woman who insists she is her daughter may still be going at it, hammer and tong. How nice to have seen Stephen Collins again --- I saw him back in May 2000 as a genial, non-threatening Walt Whitman; here, as the astronomer’s colleague/lover, Mr. Collins gave us more of the same. Ms. Geffen (Fay, in REMUDA) would be more convincing as the ambitious woman who has sacrificed all for science; Sheila Rehrig played her as a mere shrew. Jacqueline Mahler was all-too-realistic as the nagging Nickie; I wasn’t watching a performance or even an impersonation but, rather, a young woman yelling at an older one. Mr. Henderson (Craig, in REMUDA) has transcended himself to comment on his generation. Ms. Mahler --- at least, before I fled the scene --- did not.

"Remuda" (24 January-8 February, 2003)
INDUSTRIAL THEATRE
Boston Playwrights’ Theatre
949 Commonwealth Avenue, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 257-7480

"Virtual Reality / Observtory Conditions" (17 January-1 February, 2003)
THE HOVEY PLAYERS
Abbott Memorial Theater
9 Spring Street at Joel’s Way, WALTHAM, MA
1 (781) 893-9171

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