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|A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
By Jana J. Monji
If you saw Murray Mednick's harrowing semi-autobiographical Joe and Betty which gave a child's view of poverty and the bitterly, verbally abusive marriage of his parents, you know Mednick's meditations on his fractured family wasn't be pretty. The playwright continues his self-examination, in G-nome.. The title, originally Gnome, stands for Mednick himself and in its world premiere at the Powerhouse Theatre in Santa Monica, it features Mednick playing his alter-ego, Emile.
Short, stocky with an egg-shaped head and facial lines that suggest a man more prone to frowning and scowling than smiling, what you see is very much a gnome --not a friendly sort you might put in your garden to add puckish charm, but a disgruntled one you might use to warn people off.
Emile/Mednick serves as a narrator of a beat-poem. Behind him is a large screen and on the other side of the stage stand a man and a woman, sharing a mike and standing in front of a smaller screen onto which old photos are projected. Thus we meet the grandparents and parents of Emile/Mednick as well as the half-uncle who holds the key to some family secrets.
Mednick sits mostly expressionless on a stool. His brick red shirt and dark gray suit draw our focus to his sad eyes.
The man (Christopher Allport) and woman (Lynnda Ferguson) switch identities, becoming the nebulously realized grandparents, the more authentically realized parents with accents clearly declaring their intellectual and economic wants, and they also morph into more generalized members of their genders. This man and woman comment on Emile, to Emile and to the audience.
"So, so so" says the woman, starting off the play as Robert Oriol's original music and sound design set a beat-generation pace, recalling a time when smoking was cool and people spoke into mikes accompanied by soft, steady percussion music. The string of insignificant words become a refrain and a commentary on the play. So-so also applies to the play. The man and woman family-related characters are intriguing and there's a certain charm to their interplay, their familiarity and their coolness.Yet this is shattered by the inclusion of references to the Jewish writers Primo Levi and Paul Celan. The informality and personal nature of the play are lost and so is the music of the narrative. Perhaps director Guy Zimmerman wanted to contrast the personal with the impersonal to give a frosty brittleness to the scenes that mention these writers whom Emile/Mednick found influential. Yet the effect is that we seem to have two plays at war with each other. Less successful than the angry Joe and Betty in which Emile/Mednick was an off-stage presence and less probing in its commentary about the Jews and German intellectuals in the aftermath of World War II than Mednick's Mrs. Feuerstein, G-nome leaves one unsatisfied, asking "so, so so?"
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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