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A CurtainUp Review

Tales Of Unrest: Joseph Conrad On Stage

Jojo Gonzalez & Lydia Gaston
Jojo Gonzalez & Lydia Gaston (Photo:Ching Gonzalez)
Now in its thirteenth season National Asian American Theatre Company (NAATCO) has consistently and with excellence followed its mission of providing Asian American actors, directors, and designers a chance to present western classics without forced Asian cultural associations. Based on our experience, we always go to a new NAATCO production with high expectations and are rarely disappointed.

The company's latest adventure is a collaboration with Fluid Motion Theater & Film, Inc., a company with aims that seem to dovetail NAATCO's. Each company has mounted a stage adaptation of a Joseph Conrad story, and both are being presented under the title Conrad used for an anthology of his stories entitled Tales of Unrest. Even though only "The Blue Lagoon", from which Fluid Motion's Arsat is adapted, was part of the in print Tales of Unrest, the umbrella title does describe both playlets. However, while both Arsat and One Day More which in its original version was entitled "To-Morrow" are well executed this is an uneasy pairing.

Conrad, who was born in Poland, made his literary reputation with stories and novels reflecting his experiences a British seaman. Many, like "The Lagoon", which was his very first short story, were set in Malaysia. It is basically a tragic romantic adventure about a man named Arsat whose brother is killed while helping him to carry off the slave girl he loves. Arsat's story is told in flashback to Tuan, an Englishman who has arravied just as Arsat's beloved lies dying from a strange fever.

Adapter Christine Simpson, has fleshed out this basically thin precursor to Conrad's richer and more fully characterized fiction by giving Tuan his own tale of regrets. She also enlisted choreographer Michael Jerome Johnson to illustrate Arsat (Jojo Gonzalez) and Tuan's (Kevin Bartlett) interchange with the dead brother's (Tim Kang) Tai Chi like dance movements. The Tuan add-ons and Bartlett with his rather odd accent don't really add substance. The choreographic elements, while nice to look at and accompanied by evocative music, are distracting and somewhat pretentious. Lydia Gaston, who was singled out for praise by Brad Bradley for her performance in NAATCO's Fuenteovejuna, is wasted in the speechless part of the dying woman.

Short stories are notoriously difficult to translate from page to stage. It may take the author's own adaptation to successfully make that leap. At any rate, the NAATCO part of this double bill, directed with straightforward focus on the main character's emotional anguish by the Mint Theater Company's artistic director Jonathan Bank, is infinitely more watchable and effective than the first.

The setting this time is less exotic -- an English seaside town where Bessie (Maile Holck), a lonely spinster is trapped as the caretaker of her blind and blindly selfish father (Mel Duane Gionson); her only companionship coming from a daffy old neighbor (Jojo Gonzalez again) who's fixated on the idea that his long gone seaman son Harry (Robert Wu) will return tomorrow (or, per the title, in one more day), and settle down with Bessie as his bride. When Harry does show up, we not surprisingly, see another side of the father son relationship. Harry and Bessie's predictably nonstarting romance is reminiscent of countless other plays in which a handsome stranger stirs a lonely woman's longing to be loving wife.

Holck is heartbreaking as the desperate Bessie and Wu is convincing as the defiant, angry son and roamer. Gonzales goes somewhat too far over the top as the obsessive Captain Hagberd.
It would be nice to see Mr. Bank direct another full length play for NAATCO -- something as meaty as his Othello and such recent hits, the Lope De Vega Fuentoveja (Review) and Federico Garcia Lorca's The House of Bernarda Alba (Review ).

Two short stories by Joseph Conrad: The Lagoon and To-Morrow
"The Lagoon "adapted and directed by Christine Simpson as "Arsat"
Choreographed by Michael Jerome Johnson,
Cast: Jojo Gonzalez, Kevin Bartlett, Lydia Gaston, and Tim Kang.
Musicians: John Ko and Wynn Yamami
ONE DAY MORE, an adaptation by Joseph Conrad himself of "To-Morrow" and directed by Jonathan Bank
Cast: Mel Duane Gionson, Jojo Gonzalez, Maile Holck, and Robert Wu.
Sets: Sarah Lambert.
Lighting: Stephen Petrilli
Costumes: Elly van Horne
Sound: Dave Morreale
National Asian American Theatre Company (NAATCO) and Fluid Motion Theatre & Film at Baruch Performing Arts Center 150 East 25th St. 646-312-4085
10/03/03 through 10/18/03; opening 10/06/03.
Mondays through Saturdays at 8 p.m, Fridays at 10 p.m., and Saturdays at 4 p.m.
Tickets are $19.

Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on October 7th performance

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