Friday, December 05, 2008

Out Cry

Photo/Czerton Lim

While performing Two-Person Play, the play within Tennessee William's metadramatic cry for help, Out Cry, the "audience" walks out, leaving Felice (Eduardo Machado) and his sister, Clare (Mia Katigbak) alone, lost in their own world. That’s no surprise: after all, Felice reveals early on that their company has left them: “Your sister and you are—insane!” reads the charming letter. What is surprising is that nobody walks out on NAATCO’s revival of this troubled play. As it happens, the second act is much better: having dispensed with the circumstances, it brushes the madness of “artists [who] put so much into their work that they’ve got little left over for acting like other people.” It is not enough, however, to excuse Machado’s atonal line readings, Thom Semsa’s listless, restless, and senseless blocking, or the constant textual stumbling.

Like many aging writers (think Shakespeare’s “greatest-hits” plays), Williams is pulling together a variety of unfinished themes—the mania that is inevitably absent from Night of the Iguana, the loneliness of The Glass Menagerie. And there are moments in Out Cry that are so poetic that they conjure up dreams of Summer and Smoke. But Felice, upon seeing his sister regress to a childish fascination with soap-bubbles, points out that “they break,” and Machado, in an inappropriately Kowalski moment, swats the bubbles down, channeling an anger that he doesn’t actually feel. In other words, even well-scripted moments on the page, of which there are not many, end up dying by the time they float onto the stage.

The play dreads the unalterable circumstances of life, and Czerton Lim has built an impressively bleak stage—all giant chained pipes and unfinished staircases—to capture a life gone wrong. (“The setting isn’t Morocco,” says Felice, “the cushions just arrived without the sofa!”) But while Williams’s doomed siblings may be in dire straits (and they are far worse off than any of Beckett’s idle characters), there were plenty of things Sesma might have done to make Out Cry more presentable. Instead, he focuses on the technical, playing with light cues to show their inner world, and misses opportunities to draw out a physical difference between the cold tension of the real world and the warm memories of their fantasy, or to delve into the psychological trap of the actor, who must pretend nightly to be mad…without actually becoming so. Sadly, there isn’t an ounce of madness to be found here—it is the actor’s other nightmare, of being trapped in (and being the cause of) a bad play.

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