Effects of 9/11 inform Yamakawa's work

THEATER

August 12, 2004|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

The World Trade Center attacks - and the emotional wreckage left in their wake - is still so recent and raw a tragedy that it may be premature to interpret it through art.

Yet in the last five months, I have seen three post-9/11 plays. The first two, Craig Wright's Recent Tragic Events and Stuart Flack's Homeland Security, are the work of professional playwrights. The latest, The Picture Walls, is the bold effort of a newcomer, James Yamakawa, a 2002 graduate of St. Mary's College of Maryland.

Directed by Alan Kootsher for the fledgling Invisible Theatre Company, this Baltimore Playwrights Festival production reveals Yamakawa to be a playwright with some admirable theatrical instincts.

Although he has written what could have been a straightforward domestic tragedy - the story of the family of a woman who died in the World Trade Center - Yamakawa includes a number of non-naturalistic elements.

Some of these, such as direct-audience address, flashbacks and dreams, work better than others. More problematic is the inclusion of a symbolic character called "T" (Tyrone Chapman) who occupies a rubble-covered area on one side of the stage. The embodiment of the feared "other" - perhaps "T" stands for "terror" - he laughs at the family's suffering, serves as devil's advocate and, at his most heavy-handed, adds didactic commentary.

Most of the play's non-naturalistic devices, however, help illustrate how out-of-sync this family has become. The father, a policeman (Douglas "DC" Cathro), has been contemplating suicide. The son (Benjamin Kingsland) has closed himself in his room, where he is covering the walls with old family photos. And the daughter (Katie Murphy) has gained an unsought-after reputation as a "morbid celebrity" at school, where she has also become the reluctant friend of a new Arab-American student (M. Jassim Farukhi).

The dead mother (warmly played by Susan Scher) haunts the family - not as a frightening presence, but a reassuring one. Her death, however, is tearing the family apart as each member retreats into his or her own grief-stricken world.

This would be more than enough substance for most dramas, but Yamakawa goes overboard by layering tragedy upon tragedy. In the process, he dilutes the initial tragedy of the mother's death. Still, the playwright earns praise for tackling political subject matter and for doing so in a manner that is intensely theatrical, instead of settling for a mere movie-of-the-week approach.

Invisible Theatre performs at Mobtown Players, 3600 Clipper Mill Road. Show times are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through Aug. 21. Tickets are $15. For more information, call 410-499-7629.

One-acts

As its playwrights festival production, the Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre has mounted a pair of one-act plays that couldn't be more dissimilar in tone, subject, themes and characters. One thing they have in common is that at approximately 90 minutes apiece, they could each use pruning.

My Play About My Wife is Joe Dennison's second festival entry this summer. Like Air/Ice, which was produced at Fell's Point Corner Theatre last month and concerned an author whose fictional protagonist comes to life, this latest offering intermingles fantasy and reality.

Under the direction of Al Woltz, Mike Feldsher adopts a stand-up comedy approach to his portrayal of Chill Corrigan, a married man who wonders how his life would have been different if he'd married someone else. Chill calls it the "coulda, woulda, shoulda, what-if theory."

We then see four scenes with four very different wives on four different occasions - a wedding (Wife No. 1, Alia Chapman), a birth (Wife No. 2, Ragel Nel), a funeral (Wife No. 3, Leslie Elizabeth Fields) and New Year's Eve (Wife No. 4, Rachel Hirshhorn).

Oddly enough, the point seems to be that Chill's life would be pretty much the same no matter whom he married. It's a point that could easily be made with at least one fewer wife, but the premise is amusing and several of the performances are bright and lively.

Eton F. Churchill's The Eyes Have It, on the other hand, is a misguided effort from the title onward. Contrary to the light-sounding, punning title, this is a ponderous play about blindness and art, further hampered by an implausible O. Henry twist.

The story of an art professor (Mike Ware) who hires one of his students, a blind woman (Cynthia Scott), to model for him, the play makes an unconvincing case for the blind literally teaching the sighted to see (a message the model proclaims almost verbatim).

The squeamish should be warned that the production, laboriously directed by C. Dan Bursi, includes considerable nudity, a challenge which, to their credit, the actors meet with dignity. They are unable, however, to breathe life into characters whose dialogue and actions seriously strain credibility.

This Saturday's performance of both one-acts will be audio described for the blind and visually impaired. Laudatory as this practice is, one can only wish it were in service of better material. On the night I attended, even Kimba, the onstage guide dog in The Eyes Have It, whimpered as if she wished to get away.

Show times at the Spotlighters, 817 St. Paul St., are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays, through Aug. 28. Tickets are $12. For more information, call 410-752-1225.

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