Oedipal wrecks

The Portraits of Demetrius Gant

Written and Directed by Miles Chapman
Cranky Bug
ArcLight Theater
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Marshall Yaeger

This gothic play deals with themes of incest, murder, suicide, demons, ghosts, general woe, and a weird kind of reverse reincarnation. Along the way the author trips over some probably unintended quotes from Ghost, Portrait of a Vampire, some Samuel Beckett radio plays, and especially the hoary old soap opera, Dark Shadows.

The author-poet's hothouse writing in the austerest of surroundings challenged the limits of how much purple you can get on a stage painted completely black: ``The cruelty of this phenomenon hasn't been lost on me,'' one character would say. Then suddenly the author would relieve the gloom with self-deprecating humor, making fun of his bombast.

Although the language is arty, the conflicts are everyday: lovers quarrel over relationships; families don't get along; the girlfriend gets pregnant. Then there are the spooks (Blair Sams, Robert Creighton), called ``seraphim,'' on a furlough from the dead, re-exploring life's wonders, such as fabrics, hard surfaces, and love.

The ubiquitous Mr. Chapman, who not only wrote the play but even found seats in the sold-out house for latecomers, exhibited most of his talent as his own director. Wearing several hats can be fatal, but not this time. Chapman's synchronized ensembles were often perfect, and his cast was unusually pleasurable to watch.

Grant James Varjas got himself the perfect leading role with which to capture the attention throughout. Called a ``self-indulgent shit,'' and describing his ``overblown intellect'' as ``dour and moody with [a] dark agenda,'' Varjas's Faustian Demetrius seemed so hopelessly tangled in Oedipal conflicts that when someone told him he should see a psychiatrist, and he replied ``We all have our baggage,'' he brought down the house.

Others in the cast, all quite fine, included Timothy Macht, Patricia Ageheim and Erica Yoder.

Liza Williams went to a lot of trouble in her lighting design to set off a series of paintings perfectly in light. Unfortunately, the Freudian nightmares of jagged teeth, knives, eyes, and crucifixion thorns by Laurie Olinder contributed to the play's dissonant confusion. Was the hero a genius painter? (Then the illuminated paintings were not his.) Or were his disparaging remarks about his modest talent true? (Then how could one character call his work ``achingly good''?) These kinds of conundrums were no doubt aggravated by a limited budget.

Despite the author's grasping for profundity, there was always the sense of reaching beyond the powers of speech to matters of love and death that were personal, real, and as mysterious as the play. The author didn't suffer the indignity of spectral egg on his face, mainly because he had the good fortune to have heroic actors who took him seriously enough to transform his poetic recitations into drama, and thereby reach for him, and for the audience, the bountiful limits of his art.

Box Score:
Writing 2
Directing 2
Acting 2
Set 1
Costumes 1
Lighting/Sound 1
Copyright 1997 Marshall Yaeger

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