The gay-guy–straight-woman friendship device is an unfortunately resilient cliché. But Snakebit (Naked Angels), in which Michael and Jennifer are the platonic friends wondering what it is with men, deserves to be cut some slack, since author David Marshall Grant plumbs subtler verities in the sitcom setup. The bosom buddies are two-thirds of a good-friend ménage à trois, the remaining third being Jennifer’s husband and Michael’s childhood chum, Jonathan Diamond. When the New York–based Diamonds crash at Michael’s L.A. pad, all three play out Grant’s urgent treatise on the complications and obligations of true friendship. Jonathan, an actor, is waiting to hear whether he’s landed a part in a “lesbians with guns” flick. Seemingly so self-absorbed he thinks the world is his mirror, he’s assumed by Jennifer and Michael to be impervious to their dilemma: she’s worried that, having slept with Michael a decade back, she may have exposed herself and now her daughter Emma to AIDS. Jonathan isn’t as dense as he seems, though, and as the three of them put their figurative cards on the table, he looms as the genuinely clear-eyed party. Why not? Jen has worked herself into such a stew that she’s stuttering, and dancer–turned–social worker Michael, whose first words are “I can’t move,” has to suffer through an impromptu visit by his ex-boyfriend’s new boyfriend. Grant—a first-time playwright but longtime thesp—knows from doing how actors love spouting clever lines and conveying conflicting emotions, so he supplies them generously, if a little patly. Under Jace Alexander’s unobtrusive guidance, David Alan Basche, Jodie Mitchell, Geoffrey Nauffts, and Michael Weston maximize every smart-quip and mood-shifting opportunity. —David Finkle
A Death in the Family
The case of Vincent Chin—a young Chinese American beaten to death in Detroit in 1982 by Ronald Ebens and his stepson, unemployed auto workers who thought he was Japanese—proved once again how tenuous the notion of “America” is, how, in the intersections of race and the immigrant dream, violent collisions often occur. The subsequent trial and sentence of three years’ probation and a fine of $3000 outraged Asian Americans and forced a federal civil-rights case against the killers. After a lengthy legal process, however, the accused were let go.
Rife with cautionary tales, Chin’s story offers up an easy-to-mine lode of clichéd moralizing. Wisely, in Carry the Tiger to the Mountain, playwright Cherylene Lee resists; instead, she constructs a solid human drama focusing on the deep bond between mother and son and on the terrible agony she endures upon his death. In a world circumscribed by powerlessness, this is as much mother Lily’s story as Vincent’s. To be sure, the brutal events leading to Vincent’s murder aren’t scanted, but Ron Nakahara’s assured staging telescopes them effectively to suggest how fast and incomprehensible they must have seemed that fateful night. The courtroom scenes might be better explored for their absurdity, but, with the mother-son drama as centerpiece, this is a minor flaw.
The Pan Asian Repertory cast hits the right notes, with Peter Von Berg effectively cheesy as a car salesman and Andrew Pang, as Chin, convincingly boyish and grown-up at the same time. But it is Wai Ching Ho as Lily who anchors this play, alternately maternal and vengeful. It’s the way she registers pain that most moves us, as though it were a series of ax blows cutting down all that she has built. Her grief persuades us how easily life can slip into a nightmare. —Luis H. Francia
It’s not a good sign when a poodle steals the show.
Snowball—portrayed by a series of cottony contraptions designed by puppeteer Basil Twist—is the companion of one of three winter-witch widows who are the dysphasic magi of The Cry Pitch Carrolls (HERE), a one-act operetta perhaps best described as a surreal gothic Christian parable. Snowball is, of course, God in this confusing, creaky musical, in which everything symbolizes something yet means nothing. The show, with a libretto by Ruth Margraff and music by Matthew Pierce, is awkwardly built on a convoluted but promising premise: the Virgin Mary is an abandoned mother and her fatherless child a bad seed. They seek lodging in the icy Town of Widows (a/k/a Ishpeming, Michigan). There’s no room at the inn, but their arrival disrupts the widows’ cloistered existence. Carrolls is adventurous for cultivating a northern gothic aesthetic, in which mystery and fate lurk beneath snow and linen, instead of heat and Spanish moss. Think Fargo. Except Carrolls is as much tragedy as farce. And with its obscure themes and cumbersome Beckett-meets-Puccini form, the audience never cares enough about the characters to reach a catharsis—just puzzlement.
That’s why Snowball’s entrance provides sorely needed comic relief. In general, Allen Hahn’s clapboard set and Nancy Brous’s poofy powdered costumes are the stars here, presenting a dazzling white stage. The actors and director Tim Maner seem not to have known whether to treat this strange show with slapstick, naturalism, or high artifice, and therefore try a little of each. Everyone, including the seven-piece orchestra, forges ahead bravely, but only the poodle seems to know its way around pretentious doo-doo. —Evelyn McDonnell