Aubergine Days

By Roy C. Berkowitz
Directed by Rachel Wood
Boomerang Theatre Company
Flatiron Playhouse
119 West 23rd Street, Suite #305 (501- 4069)
Equity showcase (closes Sept. 22)
In repertory with The Honor of Thomas Becket and The Misanthrope
Review by Doug DeVita

Sam Bender is an interior designer living with AIDS, determined to paint his New York City living room "aubergine." For those of you who might not know, aubergine is the French word for eggplant; hence the color "aubergine" is a deep purple. Directly opposite purple on the color wheel is its complement, yellow. Roy C. Berkowitz uses these colors to illustrate both opposites and complements to dazzling effect in his hopefully melancholy new drama Aubergine Days.

Sam isn't the only character living with a terminal illness; the late-middle-aged Sarah is in a fight to the death with cancer. How Sarah and Sam cope with a world where everyone around them is living in denial is at the core of this heart-breaking play.

And with very few exceptions, Berkowitz's characters are all living in that uncomfortably happy land of denial, barely able to communicate with each other in meaningful ways. And when they are able to break down their internal walls and make their feelings about themselves and each other known, it is in a language so emotionally raw and truthfully hesitant that the effect is mesmerizing, especially as performed in Rachel Wood's exquisitely directed production at Boomerang Theatre Company. Wood ripped into Berkowitz's text and subtext with delicately ferocious elegance, peeling away every layer of meaning with a strong but subtle hand. She was helped enormously by the performances of her incredibly strong cast. As Sam, Michael B. Healey captured every nuance of a man living with paralyzing fear, yet he never descended into hand-wringing melodrama - his touch was light throughout, which made the performance all the more powerful. As Sam's confused lover, the psychiatrist Matt, Ledger Free also made a powerful impression with simple but direct acting choices. Even simpler was Andrea Scott, as the dying Sarah, whose sincerity was both complex and shattering. Suzan Perry, as Sarah's lifelong friend Harriet, offered a very moving (and very funny) portrait of a woman in such denial that if reality ever slapped her in the face, she'd slap it back. Doretta Berry impressed with her performance as Sarah's obnoxious daughter, a high-powered Los Angeles attorney bent on taking her mother back to the coast with her at any cost, and Brian Bartley did what he could as Sam's friend Michael, the only role that was superfluous in an otherwise tight script.

As mentioned before, color played an important part in the work, both in the script and in the physical production. Set designer Marisa Lowenstein's green floor and sky-blue walls that served as the basic set for all three of Boomerang's productions were here augmented by purple and yellow flats, simple Ikea-style furnishings, and Daniel Ordower's purple, blue, and white lighting. Eliza Beatriz's costumes were elegantly contemporary, capturing both character and mood with ease. Particularly effective was Wood's use of jazz underscoring, adding the dimension of aural color to an already beautifully realized evening of theatre.

Box Score:

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

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Copyright 2001 Doug DeVita