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|A CurtainUp Review
By Jana J. Monji
There are moments of Charles L. Mee's Summertime that are light and breezy. But this Southern California premiere production under the direction of Michael Michetti doesn't quite avoid getting burned by the intellectual heat of wild tangents shooting here and there, scattered like a large mass of unrelated people who just happen to be sitting on the beach on the same day at the same time.
Summertime is less focused than Big Love which was, after all, based on Aeschylus' The Suppliant Women, about the 50 daughters of Danaus. However, the plot once again revolves around love. For reasons too convoluted for a quick summary, James (Thomas Patrick Kelly) asks Tessa (Tessa Thompson) to translate some English into Italian. Suffice it to say that he falls in love with her but she brings some baggage to the relationship -- notably, Francois (Bjorn Johnson), a Frenchman who, in one of the production's more magical moments, dances a little with her and gives her a slip dress. There are numerous other relationship tangles to help Mee explore the variations of love and its vagaries.
Some parts of the play work, others don't. A pizza deliveryman (Patrick Gallo) lends a threatening note, like the looming shadow of danger from a slasher movie. This and a dark riff about sado-masochistic sex seem out of sync with the rest of the play.
Director Machetti allows his actors to plunge wholeheartedly into these angry black moods so that they appear even more out of whack with the sweet, romantic moments. Unfortunately, when it comes to the critical role of Tessa, he has not drawn a nuanced performance from Ms. Thompson. She remains coolly unchanged, even when her mother confesses an obsessive love for Francois her father reveals his homosexual tendencies.
As in Big Love, there's a lot of body flailing, though not quite as gymnastic as productions I've seen of Big Love (Humana Fest and the Venice Beach Pacific Resident Theatre company) or for as long. At the end of the first act, the actors form a sort of Greek chorus between flinging their bodies to the ground. Most of this seems too long and unnecessary with gratuitous phallic moment coming off as awkward and hardly worth the predictable giggling that it causes. Tom Buderwitz's whimsical set has tall, leafless slender tree trunks. These stretch upwards to be filled out at the ceiling with patterned, green umbrellas substituting for foliage. Halfway back on stage left is a wondrous armoire that opens to allow the entrance and exit of people as well as the presentation of new stage props such as present boxes filled with lingerie-like dresses. If you saw Mee's Big Love, The dress lithesome Tessa (Tessa Thompson) slips into won't be a surprise to anyone who saw. Big Love with its abundance Victoria Secret style lingerie on display. Here, only Tessa disrobes to display lacy underthings.
Despite its share of theatrical magic, this production is a bit like a love affair that ends badly. It leaves the viewer with a sense of having stayed too long and seen too much to really look back on it all with fond memories.
LINKS TO REVIEWS OF OTHER PLAYS BY CHARLES MEE
Orestes (2004 production)
The Trojan Women
Vienna: Lusthaus (revisited)
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.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.