Past Shock

But any event can be got through with grace if there are sufficient pleasures along the way. I, for instance, got through all three evenings of this year's "Caught in the Act" festival, and it wasn't always easy going. Not that I propose to give myself a medal, already having the fine gold. I'd just like to offer a few complaints, and then hand out a few awards to the more notable participants. First, the management answered my objection to the overuse of a single Shostakovich piece between plays in last year's festival by doing the same thing this year with an even more nerve-jangling piece of pizzicato Bartok or somebody. To me, the plays offer enough food for thought without putting difficult music between them, and the insistence on heavy earnestness is one of the festival's major defects. Pieces that aren't worth doing--this year's entries were by Laszlo, Briusov, and Paskandi--don't become so just because they're meaningfully Absurd. And plays that are slight should be enjoyed for their slightness: This year's saddest item was the Quintero brothers' delicious vaudeville sketch, A Sunny Morning, funereally directed by the esteemed Therese Hayden, with only a few flashes from Jacqueline Brookes's eyes to hint at the fun hidden in it. Twentieth-century artists have had a lot of fun in the theater, a fact of which the festival doesn't always seem aware.

My top award, though, goes to a work of pure fun: Dario Fo and Franca Rame's The Open Couple, as staged by John Christopher Jones, with Tom Mardirosian and Frederica Meister having what's apparently the time of their lives. The breathless speed and rousing vitality with which they live every moment and catch every ironic twist is as astonishing to me as the script, which has a subtlety I don't associate with Fo's caustic mix of slapstick and satire. Nearly as funny, until its pain hits home, is Moment of Truth, by Arthur Schnitzler, better known for his subtlety. Freud once wrote Schnitzler that he had never sought him out "because I was afraid I might meet my Doppelgänger." This play's richly layered characters, and the multiple ironies of their ultimately tragic interaction, make up a Freudian casebook; Marcia Jean Kurtz's staging articulated it elegantly, with a specially touching performance by Michael Countryman.

From left, Judith Hawking, Jack Koenig, and Bruce Norris in Marco Polo: the ternal quadrangle and frozen flamingos too
Susan Johann
From left, Judith Hawking, Jack Koenig, and Bruce Norris in Marco Polo: the ternal quadrangle and frozen flamingos too

The reliability award goes to Warren Kelley, director of last year's standout piece, Arrabal's The Two Executioners. This year he performed, with energy and panache, a fairly forgettable monologue by Mrozek, and staged another Arrabal, Orison, with the sardonic darkness of the first; its bleakly funny script, about two evil adolescents attempting to be virtuous, should be required viewing wherever Americans bludgeon their children with our peculiarly fucked-up version of Christianity. There was reliability, too, from actors like John Michalski, who almost made one of the Paskandi sketches seem worth playing, and David Heymann, who followed the--alas, predictable--twists and turns of the lead role in Tankred Dorst's The Curve with moving persistence.

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