note: entire contents copyright 1998 by Larry Stark
Scenic Design by Caroline Kaneshiro
Lighting Design by Al Fairbrother
Sound Design by Martin Blanco
Audiences probably don't realize how hard it is for actors to "speak past" one another; the cue-response form is so ingrained that "stepping on my cues" is grounds for countless backstage feuds. And yet for most of "Anna Weiss" at the BCA's Leland Center all three of the Delvena Company are required by Mike Cullen's text to talk while other actors are still speaking. Since a lot of the play concerns misunderstood communication, this stylistic quirk ends up one of the strengths of a harrowing theatrical experience for actors and audience alike. This is a triumph for the company, but it may take guts for serious audiences to come back for act two. Those that do, though, will never forget it.
Anything said about the "plot" will damage the effect of this beautifully written hour and a half of intense interaction, so I seriously advise anyone who loves good theater to stop reading here and go book tickets. But with that caveat, I will say that Lynne Moulton plays a psychiatrist named Anna Weiss whose patient (Nicole Jesson) has asked for a confrontational meeting with her father (Fred Robbins) concerning memories --- real or imaginary --- of an expicit incestual nature that have been uncovered through hypnosis. Just exactly whose memories are real here is the crux of the play, and no clear solutions emerge. However, it is the intensity of emotions engendered in each of these three protagonists that is the real matter of the play.
Who is "right" and what is "true" in these exchanges is really irrelevant, since damage from whatever "really" happened is scarring and irremediable. It is obvious by play's end that everyone involved had things to hide, even things to hide from themselves. No one escapes unscarred --- and that probably includes the audience as well. In my book this defines excellent theater.
But a play is never merely actors. Al Fairbrother's lighting for these two scenes amounts to simple bang-up bang-down area lighting, except that it's really not so simple. There are dead- black pauses wherein jumpily abstract music chosen by Director Martin Blanco sets teeth quite properly on edge in total darkness while lights sneak slowly up or out. Those pauses, whoever timed them, add considerably to the abstract emotionality of the show.
Caroline Kaneshiro's sets, illustrating the last night in an empty apartment, have an odd angularity, a feeling for space, and a sense of significant detail. They could have been bare walls, but they're not. Even before the show starts, these oddly perspectived walls and abstract windows are visually intriguing and unsettling, preparing the eye and the mind for rollercoaster emotions to come.
In a three-way emotional duel such as this, it is impossible to see what a director has done; every brilliantly directed play looks to the audience as though the actors made up the dialog on the spur of the moment with out even a playwright's help. However I have seen Delvena productions before, and I know that Lynne Moulton and Nicole Jesson and Fred Robbins have worked with one another enough to develop a trust and respect for one another any acting company should envy --- but they are not theatrical geniuses who can turn Uncle Ed's barn into a theatre and walk off that stage stars. I talked --- perhaps gruffly --- to Martin Blanco when he did p/r at the Huntington, and I apologise for whatever critical arrogance may have tinged those exchanges. The Delvena company does brilliant work for good directors, and they need and respond to an excellent directorial eye. They got one this time out, and I will pay close attention to whatever local production bears Martin Blanco's name as director in the future.
I saw "Fosse" on Thursday, and "Anna Weiss" on Saturday this week. For totally different reasons, both are brilliant theatrical experiences. And guess which one is cheaper --- financially, if not emotionally.