Battle zone


By Alan Bowne
Directed by Douglas Farwell
Flatiron Playhouse
Non-union production (closed)
Review by David Mackler

When Alan Bowne's Beirut was originally produced in the mid-1980s, it was recognized as an allegory for the AIDS epidemic. A man infected with an unnamed disease is quarantined in the East Village, and his girlfriend breaks through security to be with him. They fight, rage, argue, love, and fight some more. Then, the play was unsubtle; now it is unsubtle and dated. It is, however, irresistible as an acting exercise, and director Douglas Farwell's production showcased the terrific Christopher Amitrano and the fine Kate Everard as the combatant lovers to excellent effect.

The excellent set (design uncredited) also brought more to the play than the script warranted. A recognizably disheveled cold-water basement flat with old worn sink, messy closet, and toilet out in the open, it was like a concrete bunker, built as much to keep a threat inside as outside. The "bed" center stage was sofa cushions duct-taped to an old spring frame, and said more about the milieu than the script. Lighting (designed by KC Sieckowski) was similarly terrific, changing moods in an instant.

And then there was the play. Torch (!) has a "P" affixed to his ass signaling his infected status (unsubtle shades of William F. Buckley) but he's only referred to as "blood positive." "Sex detectors" are in most places, and "lesion patrols" are rounding up others with the disease. The East Village is where they are quarantined - for those with short memories, it was a war zone in the '80s, and Lebanon was a center of armed conflict and terrorism - hence the play's title. Blue (!), who is uninfected, manages to get into Torch's cell - she loves him and needs him that much. Blue has a fake "P" to mark herself, but Torch won't make love with her, as it's both immoral and illegal. The interaction between them is more feral than intellectual, but there's no real explanation why Blue wants only Torch - the audience must take it on faith that she's a one-man woman. But Bowne's attempts to delineate character are either cruel jokes on the characters or the actors - Blue puts her "P" on the wrong cheek, and her dream is for Torch to get out to New Jersey because it's nice there. Or is that an author's dig at the audience? Difficult to tell.

High praise therefore to Amitrano and Everard, who were mostly able to make fire from this damp wood. Speeches about the vagaries of virus incubation, transmission, and reception and lots of other faux-meaningful dialogue - it's very difficult to make sense out of this kind of nothing, but they were fierce and there was a wicked charge between them. Their emotions and actions turned on a dime, but it was not grounded anywhere but in the actors. Kevin Dwane made a brief, effective appearance as a threatening guard, faceless behind a flashlight, who humiliates them. But the charge was in the staging, not the setup.

Original music by Brian Kendel both set the production futuristically and evoked a war raging outside. As evidence of a director's touch working with actors, this production was remarkable considering the script - imagine what they might do with real material. Try Cat on a Hot Tin Roof next time guys - you'll burn the place down.

 Box Score:

Writing: 0
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Sets: 2
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2001 David Mackler