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A CurtainUp Review

"Iíve dropped a lot of bombs in my time---seems like the Big Gimmick is just another one. "— Lewis
"That bomb is no gimmick, I can assure you." — Laurance
Kohl Sudduth and Ana Reeder)
(Photo credit: Monique Carboni)
The year is 1955, Los Angeles. Itís the middle of the afternoon and Air Force Captain Robert Lewis (Kohl Suddeth) has been walking up and down Hollywood Boulevard unable to find a bar open for business, that is until he finds himself in a dive (modestly evoked and stocked by designer David Meyer) called the El Gato Negro. He stands in the doorway for a long time and it doesnít seem as if he is going to get a drink, at least not from May (Ana Reeder), a sexy, zaftig blonde with a pretty face who appears to have been stuffed into her tight strapless green party dress. She acknowledges the potential customer without indicating that she is, in fact, an employee, no less the barís resident accountant, Mayís couldnít-care-less attitude is duly acknowledged by the man whom she wouldnít be expected to recognize as the co-pilot of the Enola Gay.

May has just been left alone by Artie (Kelly Aucoin) the barís proprietor to watch the place while he goes to the bank to withdraw her long overdue salary. Mayís intimate relationship with Artie is more than insinuated. She admits her lack of accounting skills to Lewis (she puts down the numbers backwards). Her primary skill appears to be undulating her curves and sashaying around the premises though she doesn't get much of a rise out of the man in civilian clothes who apparently has other things on his mind.

Thankfully, it is the things troubling Lewis that will begin to spark our concern and attention during Cusi Cramís eventually interesting play. It's central character is Captain Robert Lewis whose memory of his experience as the co-pilot of the Atom Bomb-carrying flying fortress is about to be televised live on the popular television show This is Your Life. Fleeing from the TV studio, Lewis has taken refuge in the bar in an attempt to hide and avoid having to re-live the experience that has haunted him for the past ten years.

The scene in the bar where Lewis and May have become engaged in a kind of boozy, unaffecting camaraderie, is the framing device that serves as a catalyst for play's reality based drama within it. It is triggered with the appearance of a determined and ultimately persuasive TV producer Joe Waxman (Aaron Roman Weiner) who has been on a search and rescue mission to get Lewis back to the studio where the expected guests include a Japanese priest and a group of unseen victims of Hiroshima.

With the reluctant Lewisí memory jostled, the play proceeds in flash-back. We're taken back the horror of the mission and the events of the time preceding it in 1945 at the officerís bar on Tinian Island in the South Pacific. There we see how Lewis deals with the rivalry that forms the basis of his tense relationship with Colonel Paul Tibbets, the pilot of the Enola Gay. Equally interesting is his conversation with William Laurence, a science journalist who tries his best to convince Lewis why he should go along and record the event. Also peripherally involved is Evelyn, a sweet and cheerful Red Cross nurse. It should be noted that Ms Reeder dons and gloriously fills up the nurseís white uniform. Aucoin is also as unrecognizably credible in his role, as is Weiner as the inflexible Tibbets.

Cram's dark comedy A Lifetime Burning received laudatory reviews when it was produced by Primary Stages in 2009. She's had other plays successfully presented at the Williamstown Festival. With Radiance she has found a compelling real life subject for dramatic investigation. It's a noteworthy attempt to probe into the question of Lewisí sense of collective guilt, his personal remorse, and even the intellectually heartless blow-back from society to the event. I only wish the payoff, despite it being inspired by historic truth, could have been less predictably contrived. I would also have been more inclined to appreciate the playís purpose if Cram hadnít book-ended the otherwise facts-based play in such a silly and irrelevant way.

Suzanne Aginsís neat and tidy direction validates her continuing connection to Cram (Lucy and the Conquest at Williamstown Theatre Festival where she was Artistic Associate for New Plays from 2005-2007). Agins has also brought out some engaging performances from Labrynth Theater Company members Sudduth and Weiner, as well as from Reeder as a bar girl non-pareil and from AuCoin. AuCoin and Weiner's double roles were impressively expressive.

Radiance may not be as dramatically gritty a play as is often presented by the Labrynth Theater Company. But it earns its place as a worthy dramatic consideration of how the dark side of manís nature was able to forever change the course of human destiny.

Radiance by Cusi Cram
Directed by Suzanne Agins
Cast: Ana Reeder (May/Evelyn), Kelly AuCoin (Artie/Laurence), Kohl Sudduth (Rob), Aaron Roman Weiner (Waxman/Tibbets)
Scenic Design: David Meyer
Costume Design: Emily Pepper
Lighting Design: Nick Francone
Sound Design: Daniel Kluger
Running Time: 1 hour 20 minutes, no intermission
Labrynth Theater Company, 155 Bank Street
(212) 513 Ė 1080
Tickets: $35.00
Performances: Tuesday through Friday at 8 PM; Saturday at 2 and 8 PM; Sunday at 2 and 7 PM.
From 11/07/12 Opened 11/16/12 Ends 12/08/12
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 11/13/12
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