My brief reviews of the CATF plays this season

It is the 22nd season of the Contemporary American Theater Festival and I’ve been reviewing the five plays that go on throughout July for WSHC.

Here are transcripts of those reviews.

Gidion’s Knot by Johnna Adams. World Premiere. Directed by Ed Herendeen

What begins as an elementary school parent-teacher conference rapidly becomes a volatile conflict between a distressed mother and a reticent fifth grade teacher. The problem? Why did Gidion come home on a Friday with a note suspending him from school? As his story progresses, the women assemble the elements of Gidion’s behavior like a complex jigsaw puzzle.

 
As we descend toward the unexpected and painful outcome, the roles that a teacher and a mother play in a child’s life are revealed in an interaction of deception, vehemence and accountability. The audience follows this conflict and learns in the removal of layer after layer of information the actions leading to the fate of a fifth grader.

 
I particularly liked Margaret McKowen’s set that turned the entire performance space and audience area into an actual schoolroom. Director Ed Herendeen has children going through the classroom, using lockers in the audience lobby area, and planting the usual “turn your cellphones off” instruction into a teacher’s admonition to a student.

Joey Parsons, as the teacher, and Robin Walsh, as the mother, give intense and involving performances, aided by playwright Johnna Adams’ stylized dialogue.
“Gidion’s Knot” is an emotional and dangerous exploration into the freedom of expression.

The Exceptionals by Bob Clyman. Directed by Tracy Brigden

Not too far in the future, two mothers from very different backgrounds, face choices that are to be made for their extraordinarily gifted sons, the results of a genetic experiment in a fertility program. The question is how far will ordinary people go to provide opportunities for exceptional children? Is it a competition among parents? This is something that Gwen and Allie, and her husband Tom, must come to terms with in the course of the play.

They are steered through this process by Claire, a program manager for the program, who tries to get them to both understand the education process that the children could be going through and to give up part of the parental shelter of their sons. It is not an easy progression.

Director Tracy Brigden has taken the characters developed by playwright Bob Clyman through a series of duo and trio scenes until everyone comes together with a resolute view of where the future will be. The play is about a half an hour longer than it needs to be, but this is the kind of thing that benefits playwrights at the CATF, where they can edit and rewrite as part of the “new play” process.

The Exceptionals is worth the effort of the talent involved and is certainly worth the participation of the audience.

Barcelona by Bess Wohl. Directed by Charles Morey.

What happens when an intoxicated American girl goes home with an aggressive Spaniard for a one-night stand in the shadows of the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s famous cathedral in Barcelona?  After meeting in a bar and falling into a funny and lusty meeting of cross-cultural opposites, Irene and Manuel make us laugh party with them — until the party changes into a dangerous and political lesson in truth.

Two people who have met as surface level characters reveal more and more about themselves and their real lives discovering things that push them apart rather than bring them closer. Partly it is what it means to be an American in a Spain that has reason to hate Americans. Partly it is the very personal lives of each of the two characters that redefine their needs for the other.

Bess Wohl has written a fantastic play with the best interactive dialog I have heard this season. Every year there is one CATF play that becomes my favorite and this year it is, hands down, Barcelona. Charles Morey’s direction is the kind I think of as perfect… the director is invisible. Things happen as if they are actually being lived.

Anne Marie Nest and Jason Manuel Olazabel are exceptional actors and certainly, along with playwright and director, deserved the standing ovation they received from an enthusiastic audience.

In A Forest, Dark and Deep by Neil LaBute. Directed by Ed Herendeen

Bobby and Betty, a brother and sister, get together in the woods to clean out her cottage to show to a new tenant. At least this is what Bobby thinks as he wonders why his University Dean sister can’t have her husband and kids around helping her… and why she would want the brother she has been estranged from for years to assist with the packing?

Is this a cottage Betty and her husband own? Or is it a place her husband knows nothing about? Is there a student who has been living here having an affair with Betty? Every lie leads to the revelation of another truth as Bobby gets to the bottom of Betty’s story. And what will he do when he learns all of her secrets?

LaBute’s play is about the lies people tell themselves and each other, and about the way lies can become increasingly vicious and escalate to a point that is out of control. The play exposes the desperation of a woman who realizes she has aged past her early attractiveness and become more or less “transparent” to men.

The set for this stormy night in the woods is spectacular, designed by David M. Barber. It focuses the audience in the very large Frank Center into the confined world of two actors in a country cabin. Johanna Day, as Betty, and Joey Collins, as Bobby, are steered through LaBute’s often violent language by Director Ed Herendeen with an inspired verbal choreography.

As the dialogue says: “the truth it hurts.. don’t it?”

Captors by Evan M. Wiener. Directed by Ed Herendeen

In 1960, a group of Israeli Intelligence agents capture escaped Nazi Adolf Eichmann in Buenos Aires and confine him for 10 days in a hidden safe house. Eichmann, the world’s most wanted war criminal and the architect of the Holocaust, has spent 15 years in Argentina leading an assumed life. His captors now want to transport him to Jerusalem, by his own will, to be publicly tried.

The play focuses on two men: Eichmann, the “Good German” who was following orders and Peter Malkin, the Mossad agent and artist burdened with bringing evil to justice. The Nazi uses charm and sophistication, lies and compliments, to ease out of the captive situation. Malkin’s main objective is to disguise the prisoner so he can board an Israeli plane leaving Buenos Aires without being discovered. He must also convince Eichmann to sign a release saying he leaves of his own free will… something that seems impossible.

The conflict between Malkin, his associates and Eichmann –  between Jews and the murderer of Jews – is haunting and challenging. Combine this with Malkin’s jumping thirty years ahead to write a book about the events with a  co-author who seeks to clarify the actual facts, and you have a complex dramatic presentation which will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Special praise should be given to the characterizations of Malkin, played by Joey Collins, and Eichman, portrayed by Philip Goodwin, and the involving dialogue of Evan M. Wiener. Ed Herendeen has made it all work to perfection.

Captors appears on the 50th anniversary of Eichmann’s conviction and execution, a haunting reminder of the darkest part of the last century.

I hope you get to see some or all of these plays… but hurry. I understand Barcelona is pretty much sold out now.

About btchakir

Retired Theatre Producer, Graphic Designer, Usability Tester and General Troubleshooter with a keen interest in Politics and The Stage. Currently heard on WSHC, 89.7 FM (on line at www.897wshc.org) and occasionally dabbling in Community Theatre.

Posted on July 9, 2012, in Art, Arts, creativity, event, Holocaust, Military, News, Opinion, Press, quote, radio, Theatre and Art, Word from Bill and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on My brief reviews of the CATF plays this season.

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