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Writing for Us
A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
As in Architecture, the lives of the three central characters in BFE are tightly packed with pain and dysfunction that seems to reflect the reach of American pop culture. The emphasis here is on the beauty myth that has iconized blonde haired prettiness to the point that having eyes that slant and noses without well-defined bridges can do serious damage to the self-esteem of girls whose looks would be just fine if they had not bought into the Marilyn Monroe style beauty standard.
Cho has packed her play chockfull of characters, but one around whom all the events and ideas swirl is Panny, a young Asian-American girl, played with enormous sensitivity and charm by Olivia Oguma. While many teen agers are vulnerable to low self-esteem, Panny's conviction that she's unattractive is exacerbated by her difficult home situation. Her not especially loving mother Isabel (Kate Rigg) urges her to have her nose or eyes fixed. This is questionable advice, to put it mildly, since Isabel's own "act of will." to achieve beauty left her severely agoraphobic, a delusional composite of 1940s B-movie vamps. The only romance her surgery enhanced "beauty " has brought her is a fantasy love affair with World War II hero General MacArthur (Jeremy Hollingworth).
The more positive and loving figure in Panny's life is her uncle Lefty (James Saito) though he too is one of life's unconnected, emotional cripples. Having pledged himself to take care of his sister and the child abandoned by its father, his love for Panny and the tiny Dungeon and Dragon figures he paints when not working as a department store watchman are what keeps him going. Those figures are somewhat reminiscent of the mentally unstable Laura's beloved glass figure collection in The Glass Menagerie, though ultimately Lefty is more like that play's Tom who yearns to get away and live his own life.
As Panny explains in her opening monologue " things happen all the time out here" and the playwright sees to it that lots does happen. Aided by Gordon Edelstein's generally smooth direction and Takeshi Kata's adaptable set, the shifts from audience addressing monologues to direct action, from the present to past events, make for a watchable and involving uninterrupted hour and forty minutes. (Edelstein would have done well to watch the production from every section of this small theater. From where I sat (fourth row center) Panny's watch flashes distractingly during the opening monologue and, while the theater is small, the seats aren't staggered for uniformly excellent sightlines. Thus during a scene when two actors are interacting while sitting on the floor, I was able to see just one.
The monologues include appearances by Panny's pen-pal Hae-Yoon, a teenager in Korea (a terrifically comic performance by Sue Jean Kim) who's also bought into the American pop culture (adopting an American name, describing her hair as Coca Cola colored and drinking Coca Cola every chance she gets). We also get two predictably doomed romances in real time -- Uncle Lefty's with Evvie, a black clerk (the mellifluous-voiced Karen Kandel) and Panny's telephone romance with Hugo (James McMenamin), a Mormon college student she meets when she misdials a number. Even Isabel takes a stab at real rather than fantasy romance by seducing Jack, the pizza delivery boy (Jeremy Hollingworth hilariously double cast as Jack as well as the fantasy MacArthur figure). But wait, there's more. Overhanging Panny and Isabel and Lefty's romantic mishaps is a serial killer (Scott Hudson) who's been abducting and killing young girls. The fact that all his victims are blondes proves that the beauty myth knows no boundaries. and makes for a too melodramatic and downbeat ending.
All these plot strands supply plenty of opportunity for the playwright to demonstrate her fine ear for the nuances of dialogue and her knack for leavening sadness with humor. The overstuffed plot also demonstrate that this is a still emerging writer, with a tendency to overdo on the "things happen" elements and melodramatic ambiguity while leaving too many unanswered specifics; for example, how did this family happen to settle in this Arizona wasteland (or as Panny defines the everytown title and town name, "Bum Fuck, Egypt")? And how does a watchman's salary cover food and rent and elective plastic surgery? In the final analysis, however, these loose ends and the play's excesses matter less than the interesting questions it raises about self-perception and reality.
The Architecture of Loss
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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