BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
by Les Gutman
The history of the relationship between Native Americans and those European settlers who arrived in the second half of the last millenium and branded themselves Americans can be recorded in various ways, but most often it is a story about real estate. Who owns the land? What is its proper use? Timothy Scott Harris' Last Stand is a post-modern look at this controversy, in which Native Americans have become more interested in taking over banks with the proceeds of their casinos, leaving the turf battles to the white folk. The combatants have broken into two camps: those who want to conserve what they have come to define as The American Dream, exploiting the land in the process, and those who see that dream as a nightmare and want to conserve the land. In this on-target satire, the latter group has adopted the trappings of the American Indian.
Mr. Harris has layered and informed our ambitions. An essentially typical suburban couple, too cutely bearing the names Fred and Ginger (GW Reed and Gerrianne Raphael), are frustrated in their quest. He wanted to be a doctor, but ended up owning a medical supply business that's now gone under (a victim of corporate consolidation and integration). She wanted a happy, wholesome family life, but finds herself with a defeated husband who squandered their safety net; a son, Robbie (Christopher Paul Burke), a self-styled idiot savant who eschewed college for his own bizarre experimentations in the garage; and an adopted, emotionally-damaged daughter, Sophie (Dee Dee Friedman), dropped into their household when her brother disappeared many years ago. (Ginger is also heavily burdened by the loss of her own daughter, who was born with severe birth defects.) Oh yes, and it seems all the neighboring houses are now being burned down.
Into this miasma comes Curt (Bill Tatum), a low-achieving military man -- his home just burned down, his daughter, Sue (Shoshana Ami), kipnapped by Indians (or so he thinks) -- who has anointed himself General in what seems to be an army of one, intent on preserving the "real" America against the Nativist threat, by force. He's also recruiter-in-chief, and has his sights on everyone in the house, and especially Robbie. In short order, Fred will be kipnapped, Sue will arrive at the door as a new convert to the Native movement, followed soon thereafter by the tribe's chief (also a white man), who brings with him a rather impressive headdress and a whopper of a surprise to bring down the first act curtain.
The first act is effective as Mr. Harris (who directs his own script) builds toward a crescendo. His writing is entertaining, especially when Robbie demonstrates his heightened analytic capabilities, applying the laws of mathematics, first to the Gregorian calendar and later to commonly misused American diction. It's also well-focused, keeping sight of its themes, some subtle, others explicit. The performances may have a one note, two-dimensional feel, but it's in aid of the story: everyone in this world has become a cardboard cutout in a world that seems to be taking on a latter-day Skin of Our Teeth feel.
The second act should grab the competing trajectories and bring them into high relief. Unfortunately, it falters. Harris tries to do too much, choosing to expand on the specific at the expense of the universal, and then letting resolutions float away rather than being nailed down persuasively. Much of the difficulty arises from the attention given to problems relating to Sophie, which could be eliminated entirely without doing violence to the play's subject. It also doesn't help that they are not keenly developed in the script or in Ms. Friedman's performance. The direction also lets us down: the high-flying pacing of the first act remaining unaltered in tempo or amplitude. Much of value is lost in the process.
Some of the performances withstand the elevated pitch better than others. A sense of flux is recognizable in Mr. Reed's Fred, who leaves early in the first act as a frustrated father and returns in the second act with a lifetime of wounds seemingly healed, albeit in a most peculiar way. Mr. Burke's Robbie and Mr. Tatum's Curt are very believable in the frenzy of the first act, but never quite reach the level of persuasiveness demanded as their sensibilities shift in the second. The mellow counterpoint achieved by Mr. Knee is a welcome contribution, as is the more strident posture of Ms. Ami's Sue (who spends much of the play tied to a chair). The other two women don't fare as well. Ms. Friedman leaves much on the table in developing the believability of Sophie's state (the script doesn't help her much) and Ms. Raphael runs over much of her dialogue, which could have been a good deal funnier as well as significant if given the proper attention. Last Stand addresses a variety of problems that are endemic in our society. With some sharpening of its second act, and some fine-tuning of its performances, it could easily rise to fight another day.
Mendes at the Donmar
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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