Wednesday, August 15, 2007

PLAY: FRINGE, "Reader"

Ariel Dorfman's 1995 play about the consequences of censorship is awash in Philip K. Dick-like stretches of the imagination, but it lacks dark humor and it loses itself amid interlocking scenes that we are never provided the key for. This blurring of lines is an intentional descent into self-abuse, but it's a shame that Ianthe Demos can't find a stronger anchor for the play: everything else she's working with is sharp, from Mike Riggs' noirish lighting in the background and ominous penumbra in the front to James Hunting's excellently minimal set: a wall of papers blocks out the truth of the outside world; a venetian blind shutters the shudders behind it. Even when our heroes venture outside, they are seen only from the paradoxical illumination of umbrellas with bulbs screwed into the top.

The cast is fantastic too: Nick Stevenson steals the show as the spry Director of the censoring bureau, a man who literally casts himself as the villain when he starts rewriting the story, and Darrell James is grounded as the beleaguered antihero who can only save those he loves by condemning them to lesser evils than the ones he sees over the lawless horizon. Demos's problem is that there's little delineation between Daniel Lucas, the censor, and Don Alfonso Morales, the character in the novel he's reading. Both are played by James, and Don Alfonso, the "fictional" one, has a more exaggerated tone, but as the scenes slide into one another it's hard to tell what's going on. The same applies for Nico Evers-Swindell, who plays the son (either Nick Lucas or Enrique Morales, depending on the time), and for Emma Jackson, who plays Irene/Jacqueline, the love interests of Daniel/Don Alfonso. I'm sure it's as confusing for you to read that as it is for me to write.

The show evolves into a terse farce for the climax as the characters all grow a collective spin and rise up, as they must, against the oppressive readership. But that oppression is as vague as the play, even when represented by The Man (Zack Griffiths), who spends the majority of time watching from the wings and walking heavily behind the three prongs of audience seating. The subject of Reader isn't strong enough for us to get more than the most minimal of connections, which is a shame, as this is a professional production, with very talented workers. It's the same problem One Year Lease faced with last season's Iphegenia Crash Land Falls; but at least they're trying.

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