Caught on the wing

Caught in The Act '97, Program C

Four plays by Fernando Arrabal, Ferenc Karinthy, Pierre-Henri Cami and Gunter Grass
The Threshold Theater Company
145 Ave. of the Americas (647-0202)
Equity showcase (series closes Oct. 5)
Review by Sarah Stevenson

In The Two Executioners, Lucy Martin played, with exquisite subtlety, a mother who denounces her husband John (Michael Etheridge), to the authorities, to be tortured to death for an unspecified crime. She then alternates between inciting her two sons (Robert Boles and Rik Walter) against each other and lashing out at them when they do, saying that they should forgive each other, forget the past, love her, "and live happily together, all three of us." The father's crime is never revealed, and the executioners of the title (played by John Wallace Combs and Robert Marc Resnick) never speak, merely carrying out their blind duty. It is clearly an allegory, and an unsettling one at that. The happy, unified family (or state?), founded on bloody deeds that are to be forgotten, never questioned or dissented from, is a chilling vision indeed. (Directed by Warren Kelley.)

Steinway Grand is less clear in its message. The program notes inform, however, that "Naturally, a contemporary American theater-goer will not immediately recognize a political statement in the light and beguiling Steinway Grand." This, they assert, is not a problem. Perhaps so. More problematic is the fact that the play was neither light nor beguiling, but really rather nasty -- a practical joke that goes too far (and on for too long). Eleanor Ruth was charming as an elderly lady selling her piano, and Jack DiMonte gave a virtuoso performance as a man who takes on a series of personas, but they could not save the piece from feeling like a long, pointless exercise in meanness, in spite of the program's disclaimer. (Directed by Pamela Billig.)

The true gem of the evening was Cami's Nights in the Tour de Nesle, a short, surrealist parody of the melodrama trope of the deadly temptress who lures men to her lair for passionate orgies and then disposes of them in a dungeon. Luckily, a troupe of performing escargots saves the men from their plight, forming a spiral staircase to free them from the tower. Before they escaped, however, a glorious theatrical moment occurred, when one of them bops his head and "sees stars." The figurative expression was literalized by tiny, shimmering stars surround him, and he plucked one to light their way. This moment of sheer beauty turned what could have been just another parody with wicked French accents into a level of the sublime. (Featuring DiMonte, Resnick, Walter and David Heymann; directed by Michael Rupert.)

Gunter Grass's Rocking Back and Forth shows an actor, director and playwright (Heymann, Boles and Etheridge) attempting to drag a play out of Conelli the Clown (Combs), who merely wants to ride away on his rocking horse and play dead. As people from his life, such as his daughter and her fianc (Annie Meisels and Resnick) are brought on stage for the playwright to capture, the boundaries between life and art are challenged in a difficult but engaging piece. (Directed by Michael Rupert.)

Caught in the Act featured an ingenious set design (by Eugene Brogyanyi, Jeanine Phaneuf and Russell Stevens) that visually united the four works while providing the flexibility to give each play a very individual look. The same could be said for the evening as a whole, for it succeeded in showcasing a wide range of work, but also created a unified and powerful evening of theater. (Sound design by Rick Beenders; costumes by Anita Ellis; lights by Guy Carden and Paul Jones.)

Box Score:
Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Sets: 2
Costumes: 2
Lights/sound: 2 Copyright 1997 Sarah Stevenson