Sunday, September 06, 2009

Spinning the Times

For those of you out there who don't quite understand why one should bother with "plays" when the "real world" is out there, Spinning the Times is for you. Each of the five monologue plays is based on a headliner from the New York Times, and each demonstrates the rare gift fiction has to enhance the truth--that is, to be the lie that tells the truth. That's not to say that all five of the female Irish playwrights excelled at Origin Theater Company's challenge--some of the plays make deeper interpretations, or have a more ferocious topic at hand--but make no mistake: there's something in each piece that'll make you spin.

In Rosemary Jenkinson's "The Lemon Tree," it's the way Kenny (Jerzy Gwiazdowski), a young Irish Protestant punk, makes the secondhand account of troubles between Israel and Palestine--which he picks up when dragged to his mother's Church--into a firsthand response when his own house (or "settlement") is firebombed by his fellow Catholics. Gwiazdowski is wise not to translate the angstier parts of Jenkinson's script as being jaded; it's his innocent sense of wonder--turned to bewilderment, and then rage--that makes the piece so fulfilling.

That openness is the heart of Ethan Hova's performance, too, in Lucy Caldwell's "The Luthier." It's what allows him to recount a 10-year-old child's memories of being shelled in Gaza with an adult's perspective; that cold, calm, weary sadness that is all the more effective when it follows the benign misadventures of five young boys purloining their very first piece of pornography. Caldwell's writing also has a haunting (if slightly heavy-handed) metaphor book-ending it: Dawood is in training to become a luthier, and wishes that he might repair the broken husks of his friends as easily--albeit time-consumingly--as he can repair a violin. As the lights fade on Dawood, he is listening to sad klezmer music: another reminder that sorrow is universal.

After those richly dramatic pieces, Geraldine Aron's "Miracle Conway" seems a bit too light. It's a rather individualized piece of news, the story of a woman--Miracle--who winds up falling for her musically gifted boss. Unable to distinguish her dreams from his reality, she clumsily tries to kill her wife, ending up in the madhouse, from which she narrates this tale. Still, it's expertly performed by Rosemary Fine, who is so embarrassingly unembarrassed that we ache for her, especially when she throws away confessions like, "You can guess by my name that I was a premature baby," and adds that her mother didn't want her.

Taking another approach, then, is Rosalind Haslett's subtle "Gin in a Teacup," which starts out with the most superficial of approaches--the story of a fashion blogger named Romayne. However, as the fine Aysan Celik continues to explain how she fell into that line of work, a larger narrative begins to develop--Romayne's actually an Iranian-American by the name of Nooshn, and she seeks to "write a novel" with the clothes she wears not because she wants to reveil herself, as her narrow older sister misinterprets, but because this is the language she chooses to speak; that is, the way in which she reveals herself.

Last but not least, there's "Fugue," by Belinda McKeon, which is the interesting tale of an illegal immigrant from Ireland. The surprising spin here is of how human David's (Mark Byrne) story is--McKeon builds things up slowly, with David narrowly escaping a fire in his Brooklyn sublet, and then expands to explain how David, seeking to protect his younger brother, wound up mortally offending the IRA. In other words, we've all got our reasons for being here, and as the Times shows, we've all got our stories to tell.

The entire evening is well-executed under M. Burke Walker's direction, who keeps the stories unified in 59E59's black-box Studio C with the simple extravagance of a dozen or so light bulbs suspended from the ceiling (Jonathan Spencer's design). He's also aided by Christian Frederickson's terrific sound effects--loud explosive shelling, crackling fire burning--and Lex Liang's bare necessities of set, both of which force the actors to be fully present in the space. Ultimately, that's the edge that these theatrically driven pieces have over their print-confined equivalents: when the facts beneath Spinning the Times make eye-contact (or soul-contact), you can't just set the paper down.

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