Till human voices wake us

Drowning in Euphoria

By Liza Lentini
Directed by April-Dawn Gladu
Expanded Arts
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by John Chatterton

Drowning in Euphoria is based on the premises that a verbal agreement can make a valid real-estate transaction and that ownership of the key to a house is akin to title in same. These unfortunately untrue assumptions, along with some problematic poetry and a couple of dramatic missteps, marred but did not vitiate the effect of an otherwise compelling evening with a truly dysfunctional theatrical family.

Lia (Sarah Moore), the mother dead under suspicious circumstances, met her end in a shipwreck. Her siblings, Marie (Jacki Marushak) and Simon (Doug Ramsdell) feud over the real and other properties passed down through Lia by a grandmother, dying upstairs, in a complicated inheritance scheme that cries out for Perry Mason. The youngest generation, Keith (Mark W. Evans) and Jamie (Devin McLean), Lia's Cain-and-Abel sons, and Caroline (Tawny Cypress), Marie's daughter, hash out their own ambivalent relationships (Marie has an affair with one and had sexual contact with the other as a child) while coping with the demands of the present - not least an uncle who playfully asks them all to tell him how much they love him (and who has his own erotic designs on Caroline).

The euphoric Lia, poetically revisiting her drowning, flitted in and out, helped out as alternate personalities of other characters as needed, and generally acted as a utility player on this theatrical gridiron. The combination of verse play with seamy domestic drama, in which the audience must work hard to figure out who done what to whom only to be told, "tell me something I didn't already know," is dramatically questionable - but idiosyncratically effective in an offbeat way. No one can accuse Ms. Lentini of taking half-measures!

This dramatic snakepit blends the Greeks, Tennessee Williams, and soap opera, while forcing the audience to work overtime compiling a family tree (though a speech toward the end lamely recounts all the family relationships for those too slow to pick them up). That a satisfying conclusion follows from its flawed assumptions - as Marie and Caroline turn all the plot machinations into a scheme to wrest control of the empire from their relatives - finally bails out the drama, though the overall effect will leave the more fastidious feeling soiled.

The absolute barebones production, with bare, primitive lights at either end of the long, storefront playing space and the audience in the round (well, ellipse), helped rather than hindered. Director Gladu stirred her theatrical ingredients with gusto, never letting up on the interchanges among characters dead or alive. The actors jumped into this boiling pool of ugly emotions as though taking a refreshing dip. (Workshop directed by Deb Elam.)

Box Score:

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

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Copyright 1999 John Chatterton