Drama puts protesters in conflict

THEATER

In `Interstices,' anti-war couple flees one war for another

August 29, 2002|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Plutarch used the word "interstice" to mean "the very seat of reason." Reason is a trait one of the main characters lacks in Kermit Frazier's intriguing play, Interstices.

A Baltimore Playwrights Festival offering at Arena Players, Interstices is set in 1973 on an unnamed Caribbean island where a pair of young white American expatriates have been living for the past eight months.

Ray, an aspiring novelist, and Ellen, who has just had her first book of poetry accepted by a publisher, were anti-war protesters in their recent college days. (Ellen's book is called The Spaces in Between, which leads to a remark about "interstices," hence, the play's title.)

Frustration with the American government's policies in Vietnam has led Ellen and Ray to seek a simpler, less politically charged life elsewhere. The island they have chosen, however, turns out to be embroiled in political turmoil, and Ray, who has been suffering from writer's block, rashly believes taking part is the only way he will feel "whole again."

Though his involvement is peripheral, he has hidden it from Ellen, who knows only that their relationship has become more distant and that there's something suspicious about Ray's friendship with a local waiter-turned-rebel named Jimmy.

Further complicating matters is a visit from an old college chum, an African-American named Mark, whose connection with Ellen was more than mere friendship. Ray is jealous of Mark, and Jimmy is downright hostile toward this fellow black man, with whom he feels nothing in common.

Frazier has built some gritty conflict and character revelations into his script, and he knows how to write smart political and literary dialogue. The play also has solid themes - race, friendship, honesty and self-knowledge. Regrettably, its structure - a series of short scenes - is a format better suited to the screen than the stage. In addition, the ending, though clearly intended to be abrupt, feels a bit too hasty.

Director Benjamin Prestbury, however, keeps the tension building, aided by a capable cast. Ed Coley delivers a standout performance as Jimmy, depicting him, variously, as a laid-back islander and a political hothead.

Megan Weil (who alternates with Virginia Hess in the role of Ellen) imbues her character with genuine concern, despite a tendency to become whiny. And Barnett Lloyd is credibly likable as Mark, a good-natured chap who has no idea what he's stumbled into on his vacation.

In the crucial role of Ray, Michael Coleman conveys the right hippie/anti-war protester aura, but he overdoes the brooding, lost aspect of this young man who is "trying to find himself," to borrow a little period lingo.

One of the more promising selections in this year's Baltimore Playwrights Festival, Interstices marks the welcome return of Arena Players after a 15-year absence. It's also the 21st annual festival's concluding effort.

This year, 10 plays were showcased by eight participating theater companies. Admirable as these numbers may be, many of the results were less so. In several cases, plays seemed to have been rushed into production before they were ready. Ultimately, an emphasis on quality instead of quantity would better serve the festival and its audiences.

Show times at Arena Players, 801 McCulloh St., are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 4 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $15. For more information, call 410-728-6500.

`Monologues' returns

After playing a hit run at the Mechanic Theatre last March, Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues is coming back for a return engagement Sept. 24-29. Casting has yet to be announced. Tickets cost $15-$47.50 and go on sale today. For more information, call 410-481-7328.

In other news from the Mechanic, rock star Sebastian Bach will play the title role in the touring production of Jesus Christ Superstar, coming to Baltimore April 8-13. The former lead singer for the heavy metal band Skid Row, Bach made his Broadway debut starring in the musical Jekyll & Hyde two years ago.

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