Strangers in the Land of Canaan

By Paul Alexander
Directed by Rip Torn
Sanctuary Theatre Workshop
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Marshall Yaeger

The symbols clang as loud as cymbals in the Tennessee town of Paradise, where, snowed into a motel for the weekend, a wealthy Alabama farmer and his three sons, all of them trapped in different stages of arrested sexual development, meet up with a local hooker, to share their dreams of ponies sprouting wings as they sail off cliffs, or to drop all maiden shame (and trousers) to tell each other -- a bit too easily -- the things they never told a living soul before.

The play rambled with banter, occasionally stopping for an aria, or for some directorial magic to catch the attention; or it broke nicely for a moment of genuine humor.

All the actors were quite fine. Al-though you seldom saw his face, Tim Williams often burst with energy as a Neanderthalish brother in cowboy boots and undershorts and nothing else. But Robert P. Juergens as the intellectual brother--probably too great a character contrast for comfort -- was sometimes too low-keyed to hear. (But his Elvis imitation was brilliant.) David John Dean made a perfect father.

Stephen Largay as a narcoleptic brother had some of the cutest, oddest, and funniest moments, as well as the most poignant, as when he suggested that sleeping was an escape from the reality of having killed his mother by being born. Largay stuttered and flustered, but provided the play's best voice of reason.

Angelica Torn made the most of her part, strutting her stuff in a pair of cowboy boots practically to an orgasm, or poofing her breasts with subtle humor to make a point. It was eerie watching this child of one of America's truly beloved, now missing, treasures catch the reincarnated inflections and unmistakable squeak and laughter she inherited from Geraldine Page. How sadly missed Ms. Page is, and how proud Mr. Torn should be that his wife's remarkable talent, combined with his own, lives on in their daughter.

Tom & Steven Glissen created a tacky motel room set with care; and Daniel James Cole's costumes revealed a nice eye for blending muted colors. Stewart Wagner provided evocative winter lighting; and a television announcer in the play sounded suspiciously like Mr. Torn, whose son, Jon Leon Torn, designed the sound. (A flushing off-stage toilet sounded so authentic it probably was real.)

The director generously shared his humor, remarkable acting instincts, and imagination. But his favorite scenes were usually evident, for some clearly got the most attention. And he should probably not have permitted both the frontal and rear nudity that seemed to lift, bodily, an impossible revelation of brotherly love from the realm of a surreal, symbolic finish into a domain too close to pornography. Thus the ending collapsed in an awful -- albeit shocking and dramatic -- thud that should have embarrassed the playwright as much as it did many in the audience

Box Score:
Writing 1
Directing 2
Acting 2
Set 2
Costumes 1
Lighting/Sound 1
Copyright 1996 Marshall Yaeger

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