Saturday, June 1, 2013

Misery Loves Company

Sir Walter Scott's epic poem, Marmion (1808), is often cited as the true source of the statement: "O, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive!" It's no secret that one lie soon leads to another. Eventually, so many lies are perpetuated that the coverup becomes worse than the crime itself.

Coverups, however, lead to anguished thoughts of self-doubt, hopelessness, helplessness and, occasionally, revenge. Can a person truly revive a love that has deflated and/or disappeared? Should one benignly choose to forgive another's misdeeds or take spiteful action while a bloodthirsty passion still seethes within?

In his 1953 musical entitled Can-Can, Cole Porter summed up love's conflicting emotions as follows:
"When love comes in
And takes you for a spin,
Ooh, la, la, la, c'est magnifique.

When every night
Your loved one holds you tight,
Ooh, la, la, la, c'est magnifique.

But when one day
Your loved one drifts away,
Ooh, la, la, la, it is so tragique!

But when once more
She whispers "Je t'adore,"
C'est magnifique."
Benjamin Biolay's exquisite music video pays tribute to Porter's lyrics in a most remarkable way:

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The recent Best of Playground Festival featured two short plays written in response to the prompt "Fearful Symmetry." In Symmetrical Smack-Down (written by William Blivins, directed by Jim Kleinmann), four people find their lives entangled in a tense and frustrating situation.

Napalm (Jomar Tagatac) and his wife, Raquel (Rebecca Pingree)
in Symmetrical Smack-down (Photo by: Jim Kleinmann)

Napalm (Jomar Tagatac) and El Cupacabro (Dodds Delzell) are two professional wrestlers who are perfectly matched within the confines of the ring.  Raquel (Rebecca Pingree) is Napalm's manager. Not only has she been having an affair with her client, Raquel's father is none other than El Cupacabro. Back at home, Raquel's relationship is on rocky grounds.  Her lesbian partner, Marion (Carla Pantoja) is justifiably suspicious that Raquel is cheating on her.

Director Jim Kleinmann has done a nice job of contrasting the fake drama in the wrestling ring with the real drama in people's lives. Blivins's script was neatly served by his four-actor ensemble (in particular, Jomar Tagatac and Rebecca Pingree).

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Pingree and Tagatac were also seen in My Better Half, a dramedy of revenge (written by Jonathan Spector and directed by Michael French) that was similarly inspired by the theme of "Fearful Symmetry." In Spector's play, Anna (Rebecca Piongree) is in mourning for her mother, who was killed and eaten by a lion while she was traveling on an African safari with her much-younger lover, Dave (Will Dao) -- who just so happens to be Anna's husband.

Charles (Jomar Tagatac) is a professional hit man working with Anna
(Rebecca Pingree) in My Better Half (Photo by: Jim Kleinmann)

As she copes with the anguish of losing her mother, Anna is torn between the options proposed by a Charles (Jomar Tagatac), a professional hit man she plans to hire to kill her husband, and a couples counselor (Anne Darragh) who sympathizes with Anna from a professional standpoint, but lusts after Dave with the hunting instincts of a cougar.

As always, Blivins manages to create unusually comedic conflicts of interest.  The moral of the story? Stay away from big cats!

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Central Works recently presented the world premiere of a new play by Marian Berges entitled The Medea Hypothesis. In her program note, Berges asserts that "Writing is conversation. In writing this play, I engaged in a kind of dialogue with an ancient text, while at the same time speaking to the confusing and sometimes terrifying present." The text Berges refers to comes from Medea (by Euripides) and reads as follows:
"She won't eat, she just gives in to her grief,
wasting away all her hours in tears,
ever since she realized her husband had abandoned her.
She never looks up or raises her face
from the ground. She is like a rock, or wave of the sea
when those who love her try to give advice;
except that sometimes she lifts up her pallid face
and mourns for her dear father ..."
To say that this play's script was horribly confusing would be a severe understatement. Any references to paleontologist Peter Ward's hypothesis that "multicellular life, understood as a superorganism, is suicidal" or that "microbial-triggered mass extinctions are attempts to return the Earth to the microbial dominated state it has been in for most of its history" remained far beyond the audience's grasp. The playwright's attempt to reinterpret/reconfigure Medea’s role from a vengeful female archetype into an Earth mother figure whose children represent multicellular life didn’t fare too well, either. Bottom line? Not even the use of radioactive green lipstick as a deus ex machina can save some scripts!

A portrait of Jan Zvaifler as Medea with her two sons

This play did, however, give Central Works a chance to experiment with some video technology (hat tip to Pauline Luppert) and back up the production's video element with Gregory Scharpen’s ominous soundscape. As directed by Gary Graves, the company’s co-artistic director, Jan Zvaifler, held center stage as Em (a fashion magazine executive who is none to thrilled with the fact that she’s about to get dumped by her husband, her father has Alzheimer’s, career pressures are driving her crazy, and the model chosen for a critical fashion spread because of her perfect neck is, in fact, the very same woman with whom Em's husband has been having an affair).

Joe Estlack as Em's demented father in The Medea Hypothesis
(Photo by: Jim Norrena)

Joe Estlack’s performances in a variety of supporting roles demonstrated his versatility while Zvaifler’s star turn easily commanded the audience’s attention. Dakota Dry was seen onscreen as Em’s daughter (Sweetie) while Cory Censoprano was Em's often justifiably frustrated executive assistant, Ian. Here's the trailer:

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