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A CurtainUp DC Review
Vicuña & The American Epilogue
First, the characters: Kurt Seaman, as a Trump-like figure, is given an appropriately larger than life portrayal by John de Lancie. He's vulgar — "Seaman loves women and women love Seaman" — and a bully, with ultra-conservative prejudices against among many others, immigrants and Muslims. But the joke, before the election, is on him. After his nomination and election the joke, the tragedy, is on us.
Seaman's daughter, named Srilanka for the country in which she was conceived, tries to reduce her father's excesses, with little success. Laura C. Harris's strong performance evokes empathy for her filial conflict but not her politics.
The action in the first act takes place in a very high toned tailor's atelier where a bespoke suit can go for $150,000. The tailor is played by Brian George. He looks right as Anselm Kassar, a Jewish refugee from Iran who has made it to the top of his profession in New York by pleasing his customers with his suits. He likes to keep the peace, whatever it takes.
Kassar's apprentice is Haaz Sleiman (Amir Masoud). His measured performance begins with obsequiousness that turns into a crescendo of criticism. He delivers with ferocity a very moving speech about his background directed at Seaman. Masoud is a Muslim and an American citizen. Because he's bright he was given scholarships to a tony Ivy League feeder school and to Harvard where he is chastised for his politic rants. Masoud's father, a University Professor in Iran, then a refugee to the US, now makes his living with five food carts in Manhattan. After Trump —sorry, Seaman— is elected Amir's parents risk deportation.
The most winning performance is given by Kimberly Schraf as Kitty Finch-Gibbon, head of the Republican National Committee, who wears a suitably uptight red suit, pearls and sensible shoes. These are, clever and defining choices by Costume Designer Brandee Mathies. Kitty's a tough cookie whose diatribe against her party's nominee gets a well-deserved round of applause.
There were in fact many rounds of applause as Baitz's undeniably clever lines kept coming. But that would be expected from the audience at Mosaic, Washington's hippest theater, where one would be hard pressed to find a Republican within a mile (the U.S. Capitol is 1.4 miles away.)
The set is stunning. Scenic Designer Debra Booth has solved the problem of the impossibly wide stage by enclosing her box-like scenery center stage, with Kassar's elegant, up-market atelier with suits, in various stages of construction on mannequins, ties and shirts on shelves discreetly displayed in the background. There's a leather-coated seating area where clients may partake of tea in understated china or alcohol in cut glasses. No element of gentility has been overlooked, a sharp contrast to the gauche client, Seaman.
Director Robert Egan, to his credit, has his cast deliver their lines and their shtick at a rapid pace but the fact is that these are five characters in search of a plot.
Epilogue, the second act, is meant to cover Amir's question, "How did we end up like this?" Instead, it wanders from confusing post mortems and one incoherent scene to another. Better political satire is readily available elsewhere— for instance, John Oliver.
Vicuña & The American Epilogue
By Jon Robin Baitz
Directed by Robert Egan
Scenic Designer, Debra Booth
Costume Designer, Brandee Mathies
Lighting Designer, Alberto Segarra
Cast: John de Lancie (Kurt Seaman); Brian George (Anselm Kassar); Laura C. Harris (Srilanka Seaman); Kimberly Schraf (Kitty Finch-Gibbon); Haaz Sleiman (Amir Masoud).
Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes, including intermission.
Mosaic Theater, at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H Street, NE, Washington, DC; MosaicTheater.org; 202-399-7993, ext. 2.
November 1 through December 3, 2017.
Reviewed by Susan Davidson, November 6, 2017 performance.
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