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A CurtainUp DC Review
by Rich See
It would seem that playwrights Oleg and Vladimir Presnyakov -- The Presnyakov Brothers -- authors of Studio Theatre's newest production Terrorism agree with Ms. Keller. Their dark, disturbing comedy would like us to see the folly in our ways in this age where terror has become an "ism" (defined as "A state or condition, belief or principle.") Thus, terrorism as defined by The Presnyakov Brothers is less about political ideology and more about "A state or condition, belief or principle of all-encompassing feelings of fear and misfortune."
The Presnyakovs offer us an edgy observation that our dread of some unknown "they" who we believe want to annihilate us for unknown causes is more likely to be found at home in our bedrooms, playgrounds and offices. Violence and the fear of violence is being broadcast all about us. Then our words or actions annoy people around us. These people live in an environment of violence and thus they look about themselves and say "Violence is the answer." And then we have grandmas poisoning son-in-laws, small children setting off gas explosions, lovers tying up their mistresses to "make the fear feel real," and husbands opportunistically killing their wives for cheating on them.
Just prior to seeing Terrorism I saw Scena Theatre's Thersites, which is set in 3,000 B.C. on the field of battle during the Trojan War. So seeing two, back to back, dark comedies really pointed out to me that in 5,000 years nothing has really changed in mankind's innate taste for violence. It's just now we take off our shoes at the airport...
Director Keith Alan Baker has utilized Studio's new experimental space in an interesting way. He and set designer Giorgos Tsappas have left the windows unblocked so that the lights of the city and its sounds filter in to the performance. Thus, in each of the scenes -- airport, home, playground and office -- you truly feel like you are part of the greater mass of humanity. As the play becomes more sinister, night falls and the outside world becomes darker. The see-through black mesh screens that are utilized as walls add to the industrial, military complex-like atmosphere that everyday life is slowly seeming to become.
Lighting designer Colin K. Bills has utilized red lights for between scene changes that escalate the high-alert atmosphere of the play. The original music by Peter Seckler and Hey Kid Nice Robot adds to the edginess with its urban rock sound.
Kathleen Geldards' costumes may at first seem like everyday wear -- office suits, skirts, security gear. Half way through the play, though, you realize everyone is dressed in shades of black, white and grey with one or two splashes of red in every scene. A bottle of Evian water, pink tights, a red scarf and seat back covers -- as if to set off a subconscious realization that something is amiss. As Ms. Keller said "Security is mostly superstition." An orderly black and white world doesn't really exist -- there will always be that unknown free radical aspect that can not be controlled. That splash of red that either makes us unconsciously uncomfortable or stirs us to seek adventure.
James Konicek as "THE MAN" is easily recognizable as a middle aged, straight white guy who, while easily dislikable, also engenders some sympathy to his apparent opaqueness to the realities of other peoples' everyday lives. Self-absorbed, he is completely invested in his career, has already made his fortune and feels he is beyond the need for simple survival. Thus he deserves first class, not to have to wait, designer coffee and not taking the bus. Unfortunately he doesn't realize his wife hates him, his neighbors are insane or the staff at his office are living lives of quiet desperation. Mr. Konicek brings a befuddled charm and confused pathos to the role. He also is quite funny doing double duty as The Colonel, where in red underwear and a towel wrap, he invokes the ghost of Marilyn Monroe singing happy birthday to his men.
Kevin Boggs as the gay passenger who keeps making passes at the unaware MAN is appealing in his coy banter and also when he takes on the role of the Male Staff Member. Clutching his bottle of Evian water which Office Supervisor Morgan Peter Brown keeps attempting to steal away from him, the two maintain a funny symbiosis throughout the play. For his part, Mr. Brown shines in the role of the staff supervisor who wants everyone to fit nicely and neatly into a cubicle without any trouble or need for self-expression. Thus The Male Staff Member's need to drink Evian water instead of the office supplied filtered water sends Brown's Supervisor into a fury.
An adulterous pair -- His Wife and Her Lover -- Becky Peters and Tony Simione swing from being cute to keeping us uncomfortably on the edge of our seats trying to figure out where their sex game is headed. It seems like a simple lover's spat when she announces "I feel like a used ash tray.&qut; but when Mr. Simione announces he wants something that isn't just pretend, the whole encounter takes on a darker subtext.
As the seesawing grandmothers, Marcia Churchill and Rosemary Regan show us that even the elderly carry an angry violent streak, while at the same time ironically fearing other people becoming violent with them. Catherine Deadman as the office co-worker who is not a member of the office "clique" is very funny. And John Geoffrion as the slightly naive, frog puppet wielding Office Psychologist brings a level of childlike optimism (characterized by the only splash of green in the entire play) to the proceedings. Not surprisingly, his attempts to help out in the office crisis are dismissed by the confused and terrified adults around him.
If you make all the interconnections within the play, it's an extremely interesting and thought-provoking work. As an aside -- just in case you miss it -- note the hissing as the lights come down on THE MAN while he sits on the plane awaiting take off. You've heard it before in the play and it's a telltale sign of his future.
The Presnyakov Brothers have written a wonderful send-up of our fear-filled world and Studio Theatre has once again mounted a terrific production that keeps you talking and thinking well after you've walk out of the theatre. And to add to your post-show ruminations, I leave you with this quote by William James -- "It is only by risking ourselves from one hour to another that we live at all."
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