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THE WEDDING OF PAST AND PRESENT

 

picture - ReflectionsTheater Review

by Cindy Pierre

published May 22, 2009

 

Reflections: An Evening of Short Plays

now playing Off Broadway at The Lion on Theater Row

through June 6

 

According to Herman Melville's White Jacket, “The Past is the textbook of tyrants, the Future the Bible of the free.” Although there's tremendous value in looking ahead, Melville's take on looking back is a bit extreme.  The past can sometimes be a vacation brochure for the honeymoon between the hopeful and determined, as expressed in Resonance Ensemble' Reflections.  In it, a wildly talented cast of six takes short plays that are old, short plays that borrow and are new, and short plays that are blue to create a show that aims to “make classics new and make new classics.”  And for the most part, they succeed in their mission.

 

The presentation, alternating between new and old, begins with back-to-back plays that involve Samuel Beckett.  Ian Strasfogel's Compromise is a facetious tribute to the Irish writer that is split into two (one half before Catastrophe and one half after), with the sizzling Christine Verleny playing the Producer to chameleon Bill Fairbairn's Director.  Deliberating over which Beckett play to revive, the pair have fun with material that pokes Beckett's uncompromising position on his work in the ribs, but not nearly as much fun as David Arthur Bachrach playing Beckett as a statue that won't stay put on his mount.  His grimaces and miming may be goofy, but if you didn't know much about how Beckett feels about interpretations of his plays going in, you'll come away with some understanding.

 

Whereas the control in Compromise is shared and the statue wouldn't relinquish his control, the Director (David Arthur Bachrach) usurps his Assistant's (Nicole Godino) power and the Protagonist (Grant Jame Varjas) caves in to his vision in Catastrophe.  Whether directing a Beckett play or a play about Beckett, Eric Parness has his hand on the playwright's pulse, slowing and quickening the execution to suit each piece.  This political piece, dedicated to then-imprisoned Czech playwright Vaclav Havel, has totalitarian themes which, ironically, some could say Beckett subscribed to when it came to artistic interpretations of his work.  Even stranger still is that by the conclusion of this second play, comparing and contrasting the two will make it easier to sympathize with Beckett's concerns.

 

Interrupting the flow is Alvin Eng's Their Town, a nod to Thornton Wilder's Our Town that doesn't succeed as well because the classic isn't presented as its counterpart.  Though Catastrophe was pulled off flawlessly, Their Town, with a running time twice as long as the first two, is out of place as the anchor before the intermission.  As the deceased Harry Cloud and  Terry Cave respectively, Todd Butera and Bill Fairbairn feed off of each other nicely, but themes of redemption and acceptance take a back seat to the awkwardness of this play's insertion.  Still, Pamela Kupper's lighting design and Nick Moore's sound design have enough requisite fabulousness to maintain your attention.

 

picture - ReflectionsIf that doesn't excite your senses, Fairbairn's Vasili Svietlovidoff is sure to please in Anton Chekhov's Swan Song, even if this play is the “something blue” in this party.  Dressed in a hilariously theatrical getup by Colleen Kesterson, Fairbairn plays the lonely, adored actor with a melancholy that juxtaposes his costume effectively.  As his prompter, Nikita Ivanitch, Bachrach is also amusing in false eyebrows and a mustache that the glue hasn't quite dried on, but that doesn't deter from his tender and sympathetic performance.

 

Yet, before you get too misty-eyed, you'll be jolted back into a world of cynicism and doubt in Michael Feingold's What Happened Then.  In it, two men are separated by a costly misunderstanding, but joined together again by fate and suffering.  With his head perpetually cocked to one side, Varjas plays Ambrose Connor, a man that survives his wrongful hanging for the death of another, with a strength  that defies his physical condition.  Butera is delightful as Richard McPherson, the man with a wretched life that is purportedly dead, and Godino plays the incredulous Carmella with a wit and charm that's as entertaining as the stories that she disbelieves.  As the final play, What Happened Then stands out as the only contemporary play that's inspired by a narrative (18th century) rather than a popular classic.  The anonymity of its influence allows it to be fresh and exciting.

 

Although Reflections is not congruous from beginning to end, it has great, ambitious intentions and wonderful performances.  If anything, the messages about the importance of integrating the past into the present as a means to move forward are conveyed, even if the production skips through different time periods and continents to do so.  The old, the borrowed and new, and the blue all come together for a marriage that has its ups and downs, but the commitment shows in everyone that is involved.

 

cindypierre @ stageandcinema.com

 

read Andrew Turner's review of Reflections

 

 

 
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