Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Swimming in March"

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"Swimming in March
A Play on 'Woyzec' "

by Kate Robin
Directed by Rebecca Bayle Taichman

Set Design by Caleb Wertenbaker
Costume Design by Harriet Voyt
Video & Lighting Design by Tal Yarden
Sound Design by Michael J. Dalby
Stage Manager Catherine A. Kemp
Assistant Stage Manager Margaret R. Boone

Marie............Stephanie Roth Haberle
Louis...............................Bruce Turk
Andy/Bartender.........Shawn Sturnick
Margaret/Saleswoman.....Kerrie Kitto
Doctor/Boss...............Buzz Boyshow
Drum............................Sean Haberle
Liza Bulos, Anna Coppola, Eek, Jackie eary, Bruce Goldman, Gracie, Ezra Lichtman, Eric Madison, Valentine McKenzie, Jennifer Miller, Mike Mosley, Scott Riker, & the Radio Drama Class of Emerson College


Percussion................Zeke Martin
Electric Bass..............Ray Archie

Question: What do you call an event that uses nine television-sets, pre-taped t-v images, live-camera feeds, moving images projected on scrim, and conversations between televised and live actors?
Answer: A play
Because the focus of Kate Robin's "Swimming in March: A Play on 'Woyzec' " remains on the intensely human individuals breathing the same air as the live audience --- and perhaps because Director Rebecca Bayla Taichman calls forth riveting performances out of her actors. The premiere production of this excellent play, in the new Market Theater in Cambridge, will end Sunday, but I hope the 100-seat house has been sold out for the run. It is a candidate for best production of the year, I hope in more minds than mine.

At the center of the story is Louis, a man who works as a security guard on the lookout for shoplifters in a department store. He sees the job as a mission, saying at one point that murder is a theft of life, rape a theft of sex --- it's just a matter of degree. But his boss demeans him, taking away his self-respect; low wages have forced him to enrol in a diet-research program that takes away all foods but citrus fruits, or all but legumes, for weeks at a time; and the diets may have taken from him his sex-drive. He thinks he may see one-word messages ("Save") written perhaps by God in jet-plane vapor-trails or in shelf-dust. He feels enervated, has dizzy spells, takes joy in nothing.

The play begins with projections of the blurred, abstract, indistinct images of the dream Louis' partner Marie is having --- of an exhilarating feeling of transcendent joy accompanied by a mystical union with a man in a red jacket who is all men. Her eager zest for life contrasts sharply and immediately with his lack of it and their conflict is the motor of the play, as just such a man appears and she enjoys a secret sexual affair. When it dawns on Louis that the mother of his child has been "stolen" he drowns her

The technical work here is stunning, yet everywhere wedded to the telling of the story. Projected images lend obscure vividness to what Marie describes as her dream, they move the action to Coney Island when Louis tries to reawaken himself, they reintroduce the image of the red jacket, produce a slanting silver rainstorm, and suggest the sea. Louis and his assistant keep tabs on the store with television images, and converse over distance with pocket-phones while watching their televised images. The doctor's office is adorned with repeated images of the male sexual apparatus as Louis tries to provide sperm samples. A line of identical images of waves conveys the Coney Island seaside where Marie tries impulsively to get Louis to skinny-dip. And in the final sequence as Louis steals an appliance an plunges into the ocean to give it to his dead lover, projections and t-v screens combine in sequence to move him from store to clasp on shore into the ever-rolling waves.

But, as I said, the focus is on these odd, compellingly real people. Stephanie Roth Haberle as Marie is vitally, vigorously alive, and with a hundred seats wrapped closely around the thrust stage every delicate idea and nuance that crosses her mind shows in her face, her stance. Bruce Turk as Louis is a riveting study in bewildered silences, interior indifference, and halting, groping need. Shawn Sturnick as the fellow guard is a buddy personified, and Kerrie Kitto as Marie's boisterous and animated friend, then as a sales clerk, takes earthy interest in that enigmatic dream. Darker and more indifferent are the symbols of power, the doctor and the boss, played by Buzz Bovshow. Sean Haberle is her powerful, assured seducer, interested ultimately in nothing but sex. But, of course, it's the playing between actors, the attitudes and reactions they have to one another, that make the show so absorbing. His stolid, determined drowning of her takes place in a slow, graphic mime as, face-front, she fights for life beneath the projected water-line. Everywhere, the interplay is magnificent.

The concept of "stealing" echoes throughout Robin's play. Louis takes a second "job" because he wants extra money to buy Marie things --- a night-gown for instance; he does give her a pair of red stiltlike stiletto heels --- but these are never what she really wants. Late in the play she suggests that since he never had to win (i.e. pay for) her, he's become indifferent to her worthlessness. He confronts and fights the seducer when he buys a bottle of perfume, obviously for Marie. At the play's end, come dripping from his recent murder, Louis himself steals --- a tortilla-maker! --- and runs off into the sea to give it to Marie. In every case, these subtext messages are underscored, but never obvious.

Shaping and coordinating such divergent elements into such a well-focused whole called for more than the outside director's eye. Blocking had to coincide with pre-programmed effects, and attention had to be concentrated on the smallest of reactions and unstated shifts in awareness. The whole unfolded, ultimately as an unreal dream using all the stuff of contemporary reality in its telling. Those unfortunately few who saw the production of the Market Theater's Artistic Director Tom Cole's "Oklahoma City" staged for Theater Offensive at the BCA will recognize Rebecca Bayla Taichman as an awesome theatrical talent. She is Theater Offensive's Director in Residence, and when her production of Abe Rybeck's new play "This Year's Fashions" premieres there, theater-lovers should be fighting for seats. She, and the new Market Theater, are already transforming theater in this area.


"Swimming in March" (12 May - 3 June)
One Winthrop Square, CAMBRIDGE, MA
1 (617) 576-0808

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