Saturday, June 30, 2007

PLAY: "Politics of Passion: Plays of Anthony Minghella"

Photo/Stan Barouh

Politics of Passion: Plays of Anthony Minghella, running in repertoire with Potomac Theatre Project's other show, No End of Blame, is an uneven, overdirected hodgepodge of verbal sparring. The first two segments, the self-contained, but uneventful "Hang Up," (which places subtext in the foreground) and the too-brief-to-bother-mentioning excerpt from "Truly, Madly, Deeply," (which replaces small talk with immediate intimacy) are mini-showcases for actors, but they seem more suited for theater classes than audiences. The third piece, a novella of a play called "Cigarettes and Chocolate," has a rough and disjointed start that makes it seem like director Cheryl Faraone has a thing for Jim Jarmusch, and by the time it picks up (on the strength of actors like James Matthew Ryan and Tara Giordano), it's almost over.

The largest issue with this production is that Minghella isn't very passionate. He lacks the subtle knifing craft of Harold Pinter and doesn't have the visceral sharpness of Patrick Marber, and his keen eye for structure (as evinced in a few of the longer monologues) makes him better suited for the dispassive grace of cinema (where he started) than the yawning space of the theater. Even the best moments of "Cigarettes and Chocolate" seem like faint shadows beside the burning lights of other realists: for example, Wally Shawn's The Fever. It's a shame because the concept is rather strong: Gemma (an astonishingly expressive Cassidy Freeman) ceases to talk one day, leaving her brash but insecure husband, Rob (Ryan) to wonder if it's because of his affair with Lorna (Giordano). The truth is that it's more of a hunger strike than anything, a protest by this well-off woman of the conditions of the world around her. It's hard to tell though, given how closely Minghella plays his cards to his chest.

Dulling intellectualism can be overcome by theatrical staging or embraced by minimalism: unfortunately, Faraone takes a little too much of each. Her use of pastel lighting and frozen time makes the show seem overly pretentious, and her use of selections from Bach's "St. Matthew's Passion" gropes too hard for a connection where there is none. Within the scenes, the music is already being critiqued; used outside them, it casts a monotony over the already dry play.

This isn't to say that the whole production is bad, but it seems like Minghella's advice about infidelity is true: an affair is nothing if nobody talks about it. Well, nobody really talks in Politics of Passion; consequently, the show isn't about much either.

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