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Lascivious Something by Sheila Callaghan – Los Angeles Theater Review

 

IF YOU OPEN A RARE BOTTLE OF WINE, YOU MUST LET IT BREATHE

 

picture - Lascivious SomethingTheater Review

by Harvey Perr 

published April 4, 2010 

 

Lascivious Something

now playing in Los Angeles at Inside the Ford 

through May 1 

 

There is a story about that rare bottle of wine which August, the American expatriate of Sheila Callaghan’s Lascivious Something, tells with rapture, before deciding that the time has come to finally open it. He fumbles with it. The cork won’t budge. It breaks. He tries another corkscrew. Having tried everything else, he pushes what is left of the cork down into the bottle of wine. It may be that this was one of those mistakes that happen only once, that are not intended, but that somehow suddenly brings a sense of excitement to what we know as live theater. Was it a mistake? Or does this “mistake” happen on cue every night? Though I suspect the former, then why was a real unopened bottle used in the first place? Surely, it was part of Paul Willis’s plan, in his vivid directorial approach to Ms. Callaghan’s Dionysian drama, to make the fuss over that bottle of wine something that would stick with us, something we could not shake off.

 

Look closely at Sibyl Wickersheimer’s set – a house on the hilltop of a Greek Island – so impeccably and beautifully designed, inviting us, as a picture postcard might, to take the next flight to Greece. What do you see upon inspection? Glints of wine bottles at the foundation of the house, broken shards of red glass buried beneath the earth’s surface. And notice how August’s hands, with all its little cuts, is red with what should be blood but which suspiciously resemble hands soaked in and stained with red wine. Listen how persuasively John Zalewski’s sound design captures something throbbing in the air, how, when we least expect it, noise bursts forth or windows shatter, as if to punctuate the play’s mysteries.

 

picture - Lascivious SomethingEveryone involved in the Circle X Theatre Co. production of the play seems intent on penetrating Callaghan’s elusive style and bringing it to life, on locating the primal and raw anxiety which is, at its heart, the fractured Greek tragedy it wants to be. If it fails, it is not for want of trying desperately to be true to what the author had in mind.

 

As someone who felt like that Mad Magazine cartoon of Mona Lisa sitting impassively in the midst of an hysterically laughing audience when attending Callaghan’s That Pretty Pretty; Or, The Rape Play, I can at least state that, this time around, I understand exactly why Callaghan is developing such a devoted following among serious theater-goers. She has some trenchant ideas and she can write with great style. Her device in this play – to play scenes twice, first taking us to where we dare not go, then showing us what really happens – is a tricky method of showing how cool we can be in hiding our emotions, but, like most devices, it wears thin. Much more maddening and, at the same time, thrilling, is the way in which she keeps us emotionally disconnected so that we often don’t know what’s real or if, indeed, anything is real except what is going on in August’s fevered brain.  Has he been running away from Liza just to repeat that relationship with Daphne? Do Liza and Daphne really get to meet each other? Do they both exist? Does only one of them exist? What is the relationship between the strange child – who is clearly a woman but whose name is Boy – and the son that August never knew he had? And what does that all that wine and all those wine bottles really symbolize? What starts out simply – a young woman seeking shelter in a Greek resort – turns quickly into a play about secrets that each of the play’s protagonists have kept and are continuing to keep from the others. If this is real, why doesn’t August ever comb his hair or change his filthy undershirt?

 

picture - Lascivious SomethingBut, of course, if nothing is real, why Wickersheimer’s gorgeous set when what takes place on it could be played out in an empty room?  This is all potentially fascinating stuff and I wish I could say it comes together in a way that is dramatically satisfying. What it needs, and I fear it doesn’t get, is very strong performances. There is no sense of place in any of the actors; Olivia Henry’s Daphne is lacking in fire and Alina Phelan’s Liza seems almost too casual and Alana Dietze, in what is admittedly the difficult and too loosely written role of Boy, seems barely competent.  But it is Silas Weir Mitchell in the pivotal role of the tortured August who destroys credibility where it is most necessary; he seems to come alive only in the heat of the theatrical lights that shine down on him, not in the passions that should be burning inside him.

 

Lascivious Something is a provocative work that had been eloquently attended to, but its actors keep it from being the mesmerizing experience it should have been. This is unfortunate, but what is required here is not just acting, but living. Callaghan’s play demands it, if its ultimate mystery is to reach a kind of clarity.

 

harveyperr @ stageandcinema.com

 

 
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