The Potomac Theatre Project has been a Washington, D.C., mainstay for the past 20 years. Largely funded by Middlebury College’s theater department (most of its actors are alumni or students), the company has developed a sort of specialty in reviving underperformed, politically charged plays. Now, partly to ensure continued access to talented Middlebury grads, the Potomac has abandoned its namesake river and moved to the banks of the Hudson, where its inaugural summer season has been running at the Atlantic Stage 2.
As part of their first dip into New York waters, artistic directors Cheryl Faraone and Richard Romagnoli have chosen to perform a trio of one-acts by Anthony Minghella jointly titled Politics of Passion. Minghella, at his best, uses words with a lush virtuosity that’s just as well-suited to chamber drama as to screen spectacle. Unfortunately, neither his plays nor their staging here seem particularly political or connected to each other. Truly, an excerpt from Minghella’s first film, was not performed on the evening I saw the show, and perhaps it supplied a crucial thematic link. I doubt it: According to press materials, it’s only two minutes long.
Hang Up, a semi-cute quarrel between long-distance lovers, was originally (and wisely) conceived as a dance piece. This version is entirely too static; the characters, identified only as He (David Barlow) and She (Lauren Turner Kiel), spend most of the play sitting on a stool and a ladder, respectively. Their meandering dialogue contains some funny bits, but this basically inane argument should not have to shoulder an entire one-act, and if there are any politics in Hang Up‘s passion, they’re hard to tease out.
Cigarettes and Chocolate is more substantive and fully realized. Its main character, Gemma (Cassidy Freeman), is having a breakdown, brought on by the world’s suffering. For the duration of the play, she sits in her nicely accoutered London flat, listening to Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and clutching a photograph of a self-immolating Buddhist monk. Oh, and she refuses to talk, having apparently given up speech for Lent. Gemma’s friends—a boorish but sympathetic group of young professionals—take turns paying her visits, delivering monologues at her as she slouches and resolutely says nothing. Farone’s clever direction makes this convoluted setup seem easy and natural, but again, it’s not clear exactly how Gemma’s liberal guilt, justified as it may be, is engaged with politics per se. Her crisis is essentially an aesthetic one; she, like Minghella, is too busy making art to make a statement.