Wednesday, October 03, 2007
Don’t read this review.
Ever since I left Capital Stage Friday night, I thought about how to write this review without giving away one of the most clever plot twists that I have seen...and unless I want to make the review only one or two paragraphs, there just ain’t no way.
Well...read part of the review. If you are at all intrigued – and I hope you will be – I’ll let you know when to stop reading! This is definitely a show you will go home talking about. If you are familiar with the previous works of playwright John Patrick Shanley (I was not), the twists and turns might not be quite as surprising as they are to those who are new to this writer.
As the play begins, it seems to be a heavy drama with dialog that would rival David Mamet for length and rapid-fire delivery. Wanda (Stephanie Gularte) is an idealistic young writer who has sent the manuscript of her novel to the writer she worships, Brutus (Scott Coopwood). The two meet at a Manhattan Park, occupied also by a quiet British man (Timothy Orr), who is, like Brutus, playing a game of chess with himself.
Brutus rages at Wanda, tearing her novel to shreds with his criticism, telling her the only advice he can give her is to throw it away and start all over again. "Never write a book like this again. Confine yourself to nonfiction. Better yet, restrict yourself to reading. Your manuscript has no understanding of the possible, much less the real....an utterly unoriginal, very long ‘what if?’...It’s all sugar and no sh*t."
Wanda returns with passion and admits that "I want to improve myself and I’m willing to pay the price."
Abruptly Brutus calls an end to their meeting and we move to scene 2, Brutus’ apartment in the Meat District. The non-stop conversation continues, but it’s getting a little weird. Brutus confesses turning for inspiration to old movies, such as "The Perils of Pauline." He even has a costume he wears while watching the movie. He’s performing a perfectly choreographed verbal dance as he gets Wanda into the outfit, the wig and offers to take her photo dressed as Pauline, despite her misgivings.
"You’re obviously afraid, entrenched, unimaginative, and bourgeois. You wanna know why your writing doesn’t penetrate? Because you’re gutless."
It’s all very funny and she’s laughing about it when suddenly it isn’t funny any more. Ropes are involved. A chain saw is involved. Suddenly it begin to seem like some sort of sick sado-masochistic relationship.
Just as in "The Perils of Pauline," the boyfriend Frank (Harry Harris) arrives in the nick of time, kicking in the door to rescue the fair damsel, who orders him from the room, stating that she can take care of herself.
"Don’t feel bad, Frank," says Brutus. "It’s modern life. Either you’re the villain or the victim. Those are the only roles available. No one is exempt."
OK...you can stop reading now.
As Act 2 begins, it’s a whole new world. A saloon. Timothy Orr ("Lawrence," the quiet Brit from Act 1) is now "Watson," a bartender and Frank appears to be the saloon owner, swaggering about, lording it over Watson, who remembers the day when he was in charge and Frank was his minion.
Call me slow, but it’s not until Wanda arrives that the brilliance of this story began to reveal itself as a political allegory on the Israeli-Palestine situation. It’s only as the Act 2 dialog progresses that we see how it all ties in with what has been said in Act 1, as Wanda begins to talk about the apartment she has been sharing with Brutus and how it originally belonged to her grandfather (she has the deed to prove it), and she wants Brutus out. It becomes clear that Frank represents the United States, Watson is Great Britain, Wanda is Israel and Brutus is Palestine and the verbal interplay among the characters is delicious.
Shanley reduces the whole history of Israel/Palestine to its least common denominator and gives the audience a lot of belly laughs along the way (particularly the cartoonish character of Frank, a combination of George W.Bush and Uncle Sam).
The cast of this show is top notch. Gularte again displays a range of talent from the dramatic to the absurd in the blink of an eye. Coopwood is a powerful Brutus, bestriding the narrow world like a colossus. Harris is over the top as Frank and playing the perfect buffoon. Orr makes an amazing impact with his understated performance.
Jonathan Williams has directed a first-rate political satire and one that will not quickly be forgotten.