Doom Service

The Museum of Natural History owns some dinosaur feces, but it probably doesn't have a piece of crap as big as Sightline Stage Co.'s The End of Civilization(Raw Space). Canadian George F. Walker's noir, receiving its U.S. premiere, is a heavy-handed look at a couple's fight for dignity in a downsizing economy. Henry and Lily, unemployed and middle-class, set up camp in a motel outside Boston. Henry's there to find work, but his anger and sense of humiliation make him a shaky prospect: he's continually turned down for jobs he feels are beneath him anyway. As he grows increasingly disheveled— and dangerous— Lily befriends a hooker who uses the motel, and soon enough she's turning tricks herself. A couple of local detectives think Henry is connected to a string of killings at companies he's applied to, though one of the cops seems more interested in wooing Lily than solving the homicides. Scenes shuffle back and forth in time, but no matter how you stack them there's no happy ending.

Whatever the limitations of Walker's not-so-swell script— its drabness and generally schematic feel— Sightline's dismal production does it few favors. The acting is mostly amateurish, and while designer Lauren Helpern has mustered a clever set— we watch through the motel room's picture window— it sometimes makes the piece hard to hear. Sloppy scene changes and shapeless direction don't help much either. I suspect Walker meant some of his play to be comic, but the laughs, if they existed, seem to have been left in Canada, where the piece is part of a six-play cycle called "Suburban Motel," all of which take place in the same rented room. Here's hoping NAFTA doesn't inspire the Sightline crew to lay their hands on the rest of them. — Brian Parks


The delicate art of theater photography: Sarah Brockus and Bryan Johnson in The End of Civilization
Carol Rosegg
The delicate art of theater photography: Sarah Brockus and Bryan Johnson in The End of Civilization

Cellar Dweller

For those given to fits of paranoia, Michael Gardner's Notes From Underground(the Emerging Collector) is strongly not recommended. A suspiciously genial usher with a candle escorts audience members down a treacherous flight of basement steps to sit on stacks of books in a pitch-black storage room. Kneeling on the newspaper-strewn floor, a possessed-looking man with a beard (Robert Honeywell) scratches his rabid thoughts on a piece of old parchment. Not too much time passes before loud tape-recorded voices set him in motion, provoking foaming diatribes against both himself and his growing list of enemies. If the fear of what he might do doesn't raise anxiety, there's always the threat of fire from his casual discarding of ignited kitchen matches.

A perfect theatrical setting, it would seem, to encounter Fyodor Dostoyevsky's first-begotten antihero, a man who repels himself at least as much as those who habitually humiliate him. This solo performance piece, however, gives us not the novel's ruthlessly self-interrogating consciousness, but a maniac bouncing off the walls. Unlike Dostoyevsky's prose, neither Gardner's addled script nor Honeywell's Tasmanian devil imitation invites us into a relationship, however uneasy, with Raskolnikov's tormented precursor. We are simply locked in a dungeon for 90 minutes with an actor flailing away as boisterously as he can.

Of course, the production's subtitle, "A disgusting play," clearly states the author's intention to rattle and shock. Not one for prim literary adaptations, Gardner, whose previous writing and directing work includes Memoirs of My Nervous Illnessand The Hunger Artist, has tried to translate the inner turbulence of Dostoyevsky's nameless narrator into brutally theatrical terms. While he's succeeded in creating the experience of a nihilistic assault, his reworking has failed to capture the harrowing lucidity of one of literature's most influential portraits of madness. — Charles Mcnulty


Women in Love

Okay, so you've got Luna, the butch Costa Rican sculptor, and Gracie, the femme American playwright. They meet cute at Amsterdam's Clit Club, then move to San Francisco to while away their days breaking up and making up, salsa dancing, and ducking those pesky INS agents. On paper, Two Fools(Wings Theatre) sounds like the pitch for a fairly progressive sitcom, but writer-director Terry Baum applies a leaden hand when what's called for is a light touch.

Baum frames the piece with a tired device: Gracie (Pamela Prather) decides to script a play about her love affair with Luna (Lisa France). This leads inevitably to flashbacks, argumentative interpretations of past events, and earnest discussions of art's ability to capture life. Baum also crams her story with scads of social issues, such as American imperialism, gay rights, Latino rights, and the freedom "to love without borders." (Durn those immigration laws!) Rather a hefty load of politics for a two-hour, two-character show.

Though Two Fools mires itself in its own plot machinations, it does succeed as a careful character study, largely due to its actors. Prather and France bring warmth and humanity to their roles. Though Gracie tends toward the bubbly and manic, she gradually reveals a graver self beneath the chatter. And while Luna talks tough and plays rough, France shines in the moments when her fear and vulnerability show through.

Predictably, the plot-and-politics-laden sections of the play prove the blandest. The best scenes show Gracie and Luna not as a white woman and a Latina woman, nor even as two lesbians, but as two unique individuals trying to love each other. That's drama enough. — Alexis Soloski

 
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