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LETTERS TO EDITOR
|A CurtainUp Review
By Jana J. Monji
Mapa doesn't look like a James Bond girl. He has the broad shoulders and thick somewhat muscular arms of a man. His Song Liling appears almost matronly. But in Los Angeles County where a certain married 50-year-old Chinese-born socialite was arrested last year as a double spy and was accused of having long-term affairs with two very un-Bondish FBI agents, we know that real spies look more like your average person than Hollywood stars.
Arye Gross is effective as the socially inept diplomat, Rene Gallimard, who marries a hilariously sexually inhibited older woman (Shannon Holt as Helga) as a quick step up the ladder via her father's connections. As he cruelly plays the cad with Song Liling, Gross convincingly becomes a braggart, swelled with pride. Though Gross is taller than Mapa Holt's Helga towers over Gross in her heels so that she seems gawky while Mapa's Song is always sublimely graceful. Even at Gallimard's most arrogant moments, Gross plays him as neither suave nor particularly sexy. With a receding hairline and glasses, his Gallimard is an everyman.
Mapa's Song Liling is slyly coquettish. He navigates the perils of a kimono as well as stiletto heels with grace. The geisha wig he wears when he dresses up as Madame Butterfly is a hideous Western idea of Japanese hairstyles, bringing a distinctly critical edge to Gallimard's affection for the get-up. In a stylish black suit, the unmasked Song is superficial and cocky man.
Yevgenia Nayberg's two-tiered set, unlike the London production or the U.S. road show, is unrelentingly dingy and depressing. The hues are soft and somber. The vibrantly colored costu mes make the division between Gallimard's prison reality and his memories more striking.
Outside of Gross's Gallimard and Mapa's Song, Chay Yew's touch edges toward slapstick. This softens the emotional brutality and adds to the leering nightmarish feeling of this production.
With a real Chinese spy drama making its way through Los Angeles federal courts, Hwang's play has a sudden timeliness. Until the real-life drama plays out, it's hard to decipher what added significance, if any, this play will have in the future beyond its witty commentary on West meeting East.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co. >Click image to buy.
Mendes at the Donmar
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video 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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