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A CurtainUp Review

Our Place in Time

In a conversation in the Women's Project & Productions' publication dialogues, Clare Coss states that her play is "both a timely and timeless" and "with a driving theme of love which is something we need to be thinking about at this time." Unfortunately, dramatizing her theme through the lives of ordinary people because "everyone's individual response to big events really matters" makes for a fairly ordinary and not particularly dramatic two hours. None of the more than twenty-five characters are terribly interesting or unique, nor does their dialogue have piquancy or bite. The timeliness of making Our Place In Time a sort of retrospective of the fifty years preceding the new millennium fails to compensate for its lack of fresh insights.

The six attractive actors who make up the cast do their best to help the eleven linked playlets rise above their all too familiar roots. Jacqueline Knapp is particularly strong in transforming herself to fit a variety of women. Daniel McDonald, who for most of the play is trapped in roles no more memorable than his double duty stint as between scenes furniture mover, is touching as a young man dying of AIDS who yearns to be reunited with the mother (Ms. Knapp) whose homophobic husband (Norman Maxell) has kept them apart.

Ms. Coss has wisely opted to settle for the last half rather than the entire twentieth century. However, since she is being produced by a company that nurtures plays by and about women, one can't help wondering about her choice of highlights. While the women tend to be the stronger characters, the choices of episodes that might be said to reflect the changes particular to women leave a lot of room for disagreement. We hear the words of Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, but nothing from the heroines of the women's movement like Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, or the anti-heroines like Anita Bryan and Phyllis Schlafly. What we have instead is a collage which, to borrow from the lexicon of political acronyms, might best be described as The GooGoo Chronicles (GooGoo = Good Government types).

Two of these GooGoos, Lynn and Dan (Ms. Knapp and Mr. Maxwell) star in the sandwich segments the playwright has chosen to give a sense of unity to what started out as short, individual plays. In the first they are late thirty-ish "liberalized" divorcees on a first date in the Russian Tea Room -- in the final and eleventh episode, they still hold each other's gaze as they walk into the sunset -- which in their activist lives means being picketers at a demonstration against the NYPD Diallo shooting. From the somewhat amusing curtain raiser we proceed to an underwhelming scene between two college girls discovering the possibilities of Lesbian love. Things limp along to the intermission and perk up during the second act with Not the In Between about the dying AIDS. patient reunited with his mother by a caring therapist (Gena Bardwell). An Out Of Order Man about a childhood romance that has fallen apart along with the male half of the couple, a Vietnam veteran (sensitively portrayed by Keith Randolph Smith).

Director Bryna Wortman has given the play some nice touches. To make all the movement of furniture in between scenes less distracting, she uses the actors and songs appropriate to the period. As the prop movers become characters one or another of them often finishes the recorded transitional song. On the other hand, the scene setting voiceovers, effective in film documentaries, here smack of facile contrivance. They also underscore the packaged trip blandness of these visits down memory lane.

Written by Clare Coss
Directed by Bryna Wortman

With Gena Bardwell, Elizabeth Hess, Jacqueline Knapp, Norman Maxwell , Daniel McDonald and Keith Randolph Smith
Set Design: Narelle Sissons
Lighting Design: Jane Cox
Costume Design: Gail Cooper-Hecht
Sound Design: Stefan Jacobs
Running time 2 hours with one 15 minute intermission
Performances from 1/26/2000-2/20/2000; opening 2/06/2000
Women's Project & Productions Theater, 424 W. 55th St. (9/10th Avs.) 239-6200
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 2/05 performance

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