Sunday, August 05, 2007

PLAY: "Daguerreotype"

The American Story Project's ambitious Daguerreotype creates a fine latent image by focusing on Mathew Brady and then branching out to the Civil War and the question "What is history?" However, Brady's narrative is underexposed. The hour-long play, for all director Jess Chayes's quick cross-cutting, doesn't get any closer to the heart of Brady (Edward Bauer), one of the pioneers of war photography, nor to the doomed relationship between him and his wife, Juliette (Hayley Stokar). We understand that he has a great passion for his work, enough that he leaves his sick wife behind to risk his life at war in the "What-is-it? wagon." And we see that age and bankruptcy force him to find meaning in his 30,000 "captured" photographs, lest he die of regret. But these are images alone: we see them without necessarily understanding the story behind them.

That's why the second half of Stephen Aubrey's script is so much stronger: he abandons the back-and-forth between Brady's lament, sitting beside his wife's sickbed, and Brady's remembrance of History (a collection of roles, including Abraham Lincoln, played by an agile, but indistinct Zach LeClair). Instead, the rest of Daguerreotype follows a lecture that Brady may have given about the history behind the photos, which allows the Aubrey to use his imagination, and not just his investigation. At this point, it's just a trio of actors working together to unfreeze the still images of the past, riding the waves of time with vibrant rhapsody.

Daguerreotype is still all over the place, blurry and unfocused, but the energy and passion make for an exciting bit of theater. With more development, the final image may be as crisp and haunting as the portraitures hung throughout the theater. But without a richer story, the American Story Project will be trapped like Brady: "walking and working among phantoms."

No comments: