Look back in anger


By Michael Gow
Directed by Jeff Seabaugh
NativeAliens Theatre Collective
John Houseman Studio Theatre Too
450 W. 42nd St. (downstairs) 726 - 8891
Equity showcase (closes Mar. 24)
Review by Doug DeVita

Australian playwright Michael Gow's prize-winning Furious calls to mind an episode of the sit-com Murphy Brown, in which the intrepid journalist goes after the excesses of modern art and then has to defend her opinions to a panel of art critics. "You don't get it" cries one of the self-satisfied intellectuals in a perfectly deadpan lockjaw drawl. "You just don't get it."

Currently being given its American premiere by the NativeAliens Theatre Collective, Furious centers on Roland, a popular playwright whose life begins to spin out of control when he is confronted with a past he was neither aware of nor prepared to handle. In his feverish attempts to uncover his family's secrets, Roland's questions only beget more questions, and his life takes on a tempestlike nature, claiming victim those who lie in his path towards understanding. Written in a theatrical (some might even say pretentious) style that is very much an acquired taste, Gow's virulent script follows its own internal logic and moves with the surreal clarity of a nightmare. Somewhat akin to washing oneself with a brillo pad, Furious is a difficult piece to like, even harder to enjoy, but impossible to dismiss.

But if the play itself is open to debate, the stunningly theatrical production it was given by NativeAliens demanded and received respectful attention. Under Jeff Seabaugh's seamless direction, the performances of the hard-working, talented cast once again proved that this adventurous company is one to be watched,not only for the intelligent risks they take but also for the sheer professionalism with which they endow everything they do. As Roland, Igor Goldin was impressive, haunting, and apparently inexhaustible, while Janet Girardeau, Jim Festante, and Lisa Shaheen stood out in crucial supporting roles, helping to build and sustain a tension that, while intimately uncomfortable, was absolutely necessary to make Gow's uniformly unlikable characters palatable.

The highly polished physical production also helped immeasurably in establishing a corrosive, uneasy atmosphere. Consisting of Christian D. Cargill's all-red set and complicated, split-second lighting, Mary Tarochione's all-purpose costumes, and Lawrence Manchester's percussive, ever-present score, it was a triumph of conceptual design, unsettling in its evocation of one long, painful, open-mouthed scream.

Uncompromising, angry, and at times hard to take, Furious is not entertaining in the conventional sense. Nevertheless, Jeff Seabaugh and NativeAliens' interpretation of Gow's emotionally raw play pushed many hot buttons and forced one to think. And if the play isn't exactly everyone's mug of Foster's (that's Australian for beer, mate), it should spark a great deal of passionate discussion, among those who care, about the current state of theatre.

(Also featuring Michael Beltran, Mark Finley, Katie Firth, Rebecca Kendall, Craig Skelton, and Cara Vander Weil.)

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 2
Set: 2
Costume: 1
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2000 Doug DeVita