Buried treasure

Uncovering Eden

By George Barthel
Directed by L.J. Kleeman and Richard Bacon
Wings Theatre
154 Christopher Street (212/627-2961)
Equity showcase (closes June 21)
Review by Jade Esteban Estrada

One of the unique characteristics about the choice of plays showcased at the Wings Theatre is that they generally don't treat homosexuality as an oddity, but rather as a fact of life and love. This is true of the current production of Uncovering Eden, a play by San Francisco-based playwright George Barthel about modern lovers summoning up ancient ones from the past. By the way, who knew that Eden (as in the Garden of...) is in Iraq?

The story takes place in Mesopotamia in 1926. Archeologist Chance McNeil (played admirably by James Andrew Walsh) has his dig threatened by booking problems, a missing partner, and ancient Sumerian ghosts. McNeil's life is further complicated by the arrival of his former professor and former lover. Together they solve an ancient mystery and rekindle their sadomasochistic relationship.

A notable point about the production was the fine work of L.J. Kleeman's set design (she also co-directed). It is interesting to note the improvement the Wings Theatre has put in the quality of their sets lately.

The charismatic Walsh played his role with a dashing leading-man quality that helped color his performance despite the long-winded dialogue. His sidekick and sounding board Dr. Ali Mehemet (portrayed by Gabriel Rivas) was a refreshing contrast to the show's lead, with his to-the-point discourse.

Raymond O. Wagner (who is a master of transformation) played the eccentric (for that time period, anyway) Eliot Cornell, who comes to help solved the ancient mystery. Although the actor's lines were also a little on the rambling side, he did discover great comedic moments that might not have been apparent in the naked script. His relationship with Walsh may have raised an eyebrow or two when he produced that whip demonstrating that romance has many faces.

The finest moment of the play was delivered when Nirah (played by the pristine Stefan Hipley) is murdered with a knife by an ancient enemy (played by Cameron McElyea). The scene alone was worthy of a Tony nomination. Eric Chase lit the scene (and the entire show for that matter) artfully. Daniel Roach, who played Hipley's lover, was also enjoyable in his role as Adan. The scene when he and Hipley share the juices of an orange, leading to a kiss, was one of the most unpretentious sexual moments seen that evening.

Although Gregory Kostal was not spot-on with his accent, his comedic timing was. His portrayal of Inspector Houghton was delightful and hilarious.

Josh Mertz played the handsome Dr. Berenger, who turned into a villain in the end, with a British charm that was pleasing to watch.

Kleeman was responsible for the costumes, which were true to the time period, while co-director Richard Bacon's sound design helped keep the time and place current in the audience's mind with authentic-sounding music.

Special mention goes to Kymberli E. Morris and her wonderful contribution to the fight choreography between Walsh and Mertz in the final dramatic scenes.

Box Score:

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

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Copyright 2003 Jade Esteban Estrada