"Hope" is a thing with feathers
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A CurtainUp Review "Hope" is a thing with feathers
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -
And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm - I've heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet, never, in Extemity,
It asked a crumb - of Me.
-- Emily Dickinson
If Emily Dickinson could see the play her poem has wrought, would she be flattered or distressed? Since the poet's craft entails a particular kind of shorthand, a compressing of nuance and meaning into a few words, my guess is that Frank Pugliese's extension of her verse into this good to look at but hard to digest expressionistic theater piece would ruffle her feathers.
According to the Drama Dept's web site Pugliese's homage to Dickinson's vision of hope's endurance boils down to this:
A moment of impulse from an old doctor towards a young girl changes forever the lives of three inter-connected couples from three different classes. Their stories are told through a collection of styles and a collage of material, from found to autobiographical to fictional. Each character in the play loses all hope of any future, only to all come together at the end and find faith with and through each other
The way it shapes up on stage is visually fine. A two-tiered backdrop of bright blue sky and feathery white clouds created by the talented Wendall K. Harrington , who here does double duty as set designer and projectionist, raises your hopes of something bright and inventive about to unfold. There's also the young thug character's ( Keith Nobbs) great birdman getup complete with a super-spiked hairdo.
The Drama Dept. certainly hasn't stinted on giving this, the second original play in its illustrious 3-year history, a fine staging. Nor can the company be accused of letting its success and collaboration with New Line Cinema; Fine Line Features shift its emphasis towards commercialism. Hope is hardly a Broadway audience geared endeavor.
But alas and alack, even a fine cast headed by Drama Dept. stalwart Cynthia Nixon and Maria Tucci, can't take the pretension out of this pretentiously talky play. It isn't really all that hard to figure out the connection between the disparate couples. It's the heavily laced with metaphors text, the characters named only by type ( i.e. old man, old woman) and the frozen poses of the actors not in the limelight that distances us from the story being told. By the time the final metaphors are delivered we are more exhausted than exhilarated, most likely identifying with the caged bird brought out by the young girl. A glance at the recipe included in the program notes makes the soup (Bird's Nest, of course!) dished up by "the young man" (Avery Glymph) to restore the old doctor's (Robert Hogan) appetite for food-ergo-life seem a lot more nourishing than the play.
] Pugliese's preoccupation with dashed hopes dates back to his starkly realistic Obie award winning Aven'U Boys which focused on lives stalled in the Brooklyn's Avenue U subway station neighborhood. He's imported a generous dash of the "F" word from that memorable play, but none of its gripping emotions and grit. Like the Drama Dept. he deserves high marks for daring to experiment with a different dramatic form. Now that he has, however, my hope is that he realizes that he need not pay homage to another artist and takes a flight back to his own roots.
Other Drama Dept. reviewed: June Moon. . .As Bees In Honey Drown. . .Uncle Tom's Cabin
Other related reviews: Stupid Kids featuring Keith Nobbs. . . Collected Stories . . . Never the Sinner featuring Robert Hogan. . . . and .Filumena featuring Maria Tucci