Hell on wheels
A Kite Cut Loose in the Middle of the Sky
Written by David Greenberg
Directed by Russell Waldman
Nicu’s Spoon (www.spoontheatre.org)
Review by Judd Hollander
Being trapped inside a prison with no way out is a terrifying thought. But when that prison happens to be one's own body, the fear factor is raised considerably, as shown in David Greenberg's fascinating, if somewhat disjointed A Kite Cut Loose in the Middle of the Sky. Presented by Nicu's Spoon Theater Company, the work vividly succeeds in putting a human face on a woman caught in such a situation. However, the show seems to be presenting almost two separate plays in the work's two acts, thus blunting the overall effect.
Rosie (Rebecca Challis) is 35 years old and bitter. Perhaps not surprising as she has been a quadriplegic for the past 17 of those years and is basically dependant on others for things able-bodied folk take for granted. While better off than many people in her situation - she lives in a building specifically designed for people with disabilities, has a motorized wheelchair and most of the devices in her apartment are voice activated, i.e. front door, lights, radio, computer, etc.- there are still many things she cannot do for herself. This impotence causes Rosie to continually to lash out at her sister Louise (Margaret H. Baker) who is her live-in caregiver. The first scene has more than a passing echo of the film Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, where Louise decides for Roise what they're having for breakfast, despite Rosie's complaints to the contrary. Louise also cuts off the mobility on Rosie's wheelchair when she is angered at her behavior, making Rosie feel truly helpless.
Deep in depression, Rosie basically passes the days trying to keep her mind occupied. She calls various sex lines, annoys the neighbors with loud radio playing and in a scene reminiscent of Hitchcock's Rear Window, watches the goings-on outside her building. She also spends time getting drunk and high with her friends (all people with disabilities).
Initially an object of pity, during the course of the play Rosie eventually starts to come across as a fully formed, vital woman trapped in an unmoving shell. Her only outlet for her pain is her voice, the tool she uses to torment, annoy, rage at and occasionally laugh with those who cross her path. Because when she does manage to keep someone verbally off balance, Rosie gets to be the one in control. At least for a little while.
This chance to be in control takes an unexpected turn when, at the beginning of Act II, Jerry (David Tully), a murderer on the run from the police, suddenly bursts into her apartment looking for a place to hide. While most people would find the sight of a man pointing a gun in their face rather horrifying, Rosie reacts to the situation with something akin to delight. Pretty soon she's tossing off snappy one-liners, and even calling into question Jerry's manhood, sending him into a sputtering and dangerous rage. Yet Rosie continues her verbal assault, becoming energized in a way she hasn't been for who knows how long, even thanking Jerry for slapping her across the face because the pain is something she can feel.
There is no question that this is a powerful and moving play. However with so much information included in the work, the piece never comes together as it should. In Act I there are a host of characters that depart after one scene and never appear again. This includes Louise, as well as Rosie's various friends and neighbors, such as Brandon (Leo Otero), a drug dealer with severe cerebral palsy; Max (Tim Romero) who has been blind since birth; Sandy (also played by Baker) a woman who lost her arms and legs in a motorcycle accident; Soiree (Rachel Handsaw) who suffered terrible burns on her face and lost the use of one of her legs; and a racist paraplegic Vietnam veteran named Leonard (Mark Armstrong).
Greenberg may have wanted to use the first act as a snapshot of Rosie's existence (i.e. a sort of "a day in the life" effect), but since no effort is made to show what's going on inside Rosie's head until the end of that act, what happens before that feels forced and not all that interesting. Until then Rosie comes across as simply unlikable and bitter, with many of the other characters in her orbit better formed and commanding more attention. (Both Greenberg and, to a lesser degree, director Russell Waldman share the blame for this situation.) Because Act II is so much richer in emotion and characterization, and a completely different scenario, it not only feels like a stand-alone piece, but almost as if it were written first, with Act I added later as a sort of "prequel filler."
This situation also reflects on Challis’ portrayal of Rosie. She gives a competent performance as the play begins, with her efforts growing by leaps and bounds with emotionality and depth when given better material to work with as the play goes on. Elsewhere, Tully as Jerry makes a good foil (and unexpected comic relief) for Rosie's rage and confidante for her secrets. A rough, brutish man, he reveals an unexpected tender side that goes hand in hand with his physical threats.
Other strong performances include Otero as Brandon, who never loses his pride, despite his disability and prospect, and Baker in the role of Louise. Armstrong is also good as Leonard, a man tormented by his past mistakes
The set (uncredited in the program) is very good, as is the lighting by Tamora Wilson. Costumes (by the Nicu's Spoon Company) are okay. Waldman's direction works well except for the problem mentioned above, and the fight direction by Stephanie Barton-Farcas is excellent.
As staged now, Act II of A Kite Cut Loose in the Middle of the Sky plays like a powerful and heart-wrenching black comedy while Act I is more of a "disability of the week" drama with interesting characters that are never fully explored. As a whole, it's a good piece, but Greenberg needs to re-work the text to make the entire play resonate as powerfully as the second half does now.
Copyright 2008 by Judd Hollander
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