Tuesday, June 21, 2016

A Revolutionary Mind

The cast of “A Revolutionary Mind,” presented by California Stage, includes Marion Jeffrey as Susan, surrounded by Michael Erwin as the Professor, Joe Monroe as Alan and Berman Obaldia as Raymundo Gleyser. Courtesy photo

 Leslie Lewinter-Suskind (“Italian Opera”) is introducing her new play, “A Revolutionary Mind,” at California Stage Theater’s R25 Arts Complex. The production is directed by Ray Tatar.

Drawing inspiration from the life and disappearance Argentinian filmmaker Raymundo Gleyzer, this play centers on Susan (Marion Jeffery), a boomer generation activist who was ready to set the world on fire and make it a better place for everyone.

But first she had to marry Alan (Joe Monroe); then the birth of a daughter, and then a son, intervene with her plans to save the world.

The show itself bounces back and forth seamlessly among three time periods — the present day, Susan’s college years and her dialogs with her professor (Michael T. Erwin) and conversations with Raymundo Gleyzer (Berman Obaldia) as she tries to make sense of her life and what she has accomplished. It also deals with the very real disappearance of her daughter, whom she has raised to be an activist and who went off to film atrocities around the world, like Gleyzer.

The success of this powerful plan rests on the performance of Jeffery as Susan. She is mesmerizing. She has the ability to transform from the modern-day subservient wife to the passionate student to the frustrated activist and back again with the mere turn of her head and slight change in her expression. It really must be seen to be appreciated.

Matching Jeffery in intensity is Obaldia as Gleyzer, a larger-than-life figure whose passion for recording the atrocities he sees around him and sharing them with the world ultimately will lead to his torture and execution. It is he who extracts the most guilt from Susan as he points out that while she has the desire, she gave it up in exchange for a husband and a suburban home where she gives dinner parties serving Swedish meatballs or fondue and attends meetings about the condition of the world.

(“How do you silence the real world so you can hear the real world?” she asks in anguish. Any frustrated activist in the audience will identify immediately!)

Erwin as the Professor is a nice, tell-it-like-it-is character who takes no excuses from Susan and always challenges her to be better than she thinks she can be.

At the same time, husband Alan (Monroe) is himself frustrated, wanting to be supportive of Susan, but tired of her leaving the family, whether physically or emotionally, to try to change the world.

As the play begins, he is dealing with the American Embassy, which has called to let the family know that their daughter is missing. The encouraging and then discouraging news of the daughter permeates the evening, and is driving Susan’s conflicted emotions, realizing that it was she who instilled in her daughter the need to change the world, which has led to this dangerous situation in which she now finds herself.

(According to his bio, “A Revolutionary Mind” is the first theater production for Monroe, and he certainly shows promise for future productions.)

While I found this play excellent and very moving, I also found it depressing. The collegiate Susan’s passionate hopes for her future are shared with her professor and sound like they came right out of a Bernie Sanders speech. (Maybe they did.)

The more that Susan, her professor and Gleyzer talk, the more one realizes that we have not come nearly as far as we hoped we had. We are still fighting the battles they fought during the civil rights era, only now we are fighting for the rights for even more categories of human beings. We still do not have universal health care or schooling available to all. Atrocities are still happening in foreign lands. The battle goes on, as it has for centuries.

I don’t know if this will be a wake-up call for all former passionate activists, but it certainly will leave you wondering how you might have done things differently when you had the opportunity. And does the life you have lived leave you satisfied with your own role in changing the world from the comfort of your air-conditioned house?

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