Light my fire

Aluminum Garden

By Peter Valentyne
Directed by Steven Thornburg
Sage Theatre Company
Raw Space
529 W. 42nd St. (929-3423)
Non-union production (closes Jan. 14)
Review by James A. Lopata

Peter Valentyne's characters are searching for connection in a lonely world. His recent plays - The Logic of Solids, Trusting Mr. Universe, and now, this revival of Aluminum Garden, all produced by Sage Theatre Company -- portray a world of isolated individuals reaching out to others, trying to transcend desperation and be saved. The characters appear strong. But scratch below the surface, and they are vulnerable and weak.

Muscular Adam (Peter Carlino) comes across as anything but vulnerable as he stalks beautiful women. He spots them at a street phone visible from his apartment window. He dials up. They answer. And the dialogue begins with something like, "Blue becomes you." It progresses to sexual innuendo and often ends up with an abrupt hang-up. But today it continues, with a surprise visit by today's "blue-becomes-you." Her name is Eve (Debra Philips) and she arrives as a sexy, dancing dominatrix who turns Adam's former phone bravado into a nervous submissiveness. A pas-de-deux of frightened desire ensues.

Yes, it's Adam and Eve. And Eve works at "Paradise" lounge. There's also a snake, a half-eaten apple, a manger scene, and several other religious/mythological references that add weight to this story-line. Sounds tritely symbolic? It's not. In fact, Mr. Valentyne expends so much verbiage ensuring that the symbolism is seamlessly woven into the contemporary narrative that, at times, it becomes a victim of its own success: the drama could move along quicker. This caveat aside, Valentyne navigates his thematic waters adroitly.

What stands out more than the theology is the power of loneliness. When Eve discovers Adam's hidden shrine to an old flame named Christine (another Christological reference) - including hundreds of pictures, candles, lights, and letters - the story becomes an extraordinary homage to the endurance of love in the face of being alone.

Director Steven Thornburg takes every bit of time necessary to absorb this and other touching moments, as when the couple tentatively begin to dance together for the first time. It is these human moments of connection against the odds that build the strongest case for Valentyne's rich language.

Peter Carlino's finest moment finds him awestruck at Eve's alluring dance. His eyes evoke the split sides of childlike awe and adult hunger for affection. His stunted, childlike emotional growth is all here.

Debra Philips carries herself with great confidence from the start, only to evoke suddenly and surprisingly her own childlike need for caring when she kneels like a puppy at Adam's feet and asks him to pet her.

The set design all wood and cloth is exactly the warmth for which these characters long. Lighting designed by Louis Lopardi, and the score, effectively highlighted and underscored the womblike atmosphere these characters crave.
Box Score:

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

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Copyright 1999 James A. Lopata