Thursday, August 16, 2007

PLAY: FRINGE, "The Commission"

The barbed-wire walls aren't the only constricting thing in The Commission: Steven Fechter's script is a fenced-in, all-too-tidy play about the very sloppy consequences of war and the myriad crimes that go along with it. Dreamscape Theater's production is fine but flat; there's not a lot of action in three-quarters of the play, and the circuitous talking is not justified by the script's backward-moving narrative. As a result, the first and last scenes are warm-ups and cool-downs for the meat of the play, the two scenes with Karl (Patrick Melville).

In the first of these scenes, Karl is a cool diplomat, trying to bypass a entrenched soldier with the use of increasingly trenchant language. This soldier, Ivan (Zack Calhoon) is apparently guarding a mass grave, and Karl will stop at nothing, no matter how hypocritically criminal, to expose the war crimes he's been investigating. Ivan shows up again in the fourth scene to beg Boba (Al Choy) for his daughter's Tulia's (Rena de Courcy) hand in marriage, but that scene's tangential, as is the first scene, that randomly puts Tulia in the same room as Paula (Susan Ferrara) for some light conversation. If these three scenes weren't so forgettable, the interplay between them might unlock some deeper understanding of the fractures of war, and the play might serve as a bone-setting tool that restores humanity (only to strip it from us once more).

However, it's only the third scene, a graphic confrontation between Paula and Karl, that sheds any light on the consequences of war. Ferrara and Melville are the stronger actors of the show, and they seem well matched here; furthermore, because director Sarah Gurfield strips them of their clothes, they have nothing to hide behind. Fechter's script bares its teeth here as well, from the vicious molars to the subtle, delayed wisdom teeth. It's also no surprise that the fangs come out at a moment when the play is furthest from the war: The Commission makes the biggest statement about objectivity and passivity by branding victimization and violence into what is otherwise a domestic scene. Look, it says: if we can do this in our own bedrooms, to those we supposedly love, what won't we do to those anonymous strangers we know nothing of and care nothing for?

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