KPBS AIRDATE: APRIL 3, 1998
Actually, it’s all in the writing. When a play is beautifully poetic or hysterically surreal, a director has to simply get out of the way and let the language take over. In two very satisfying productions, one director does, one doesn’t, but the result still works out to excellent effect.
In an auspicious co-production, Centro Cultural meets Diversionary Theatre in the most wonderful place: Cherrie Moraga’s “Giving Up the Ghost,” a dream-piece about a Chicana lesbian. Perfect marriage of mind-sets. Moraga’s play is aching in its memories and its language. Three women inhabit the stage, each in her own little world, each at a different age, a different stage of sexual awareness. Maybe they’re all the same woman. Maybe not. Young Corky, tough, butch and rough-edged, dresses like a boy and torments little girls. But she’s also been tormented, and raped by the pseudo Spanish-speaking school janitor. Marisa is a young woman, defiantly, proudly gay, lusty but loveless and lonely. She falls for the older Amalia, who’s drawn to women, but still in love with a man.
Each of these wounded creatures is haunted, and trying desperately to move on, to come to terms, to give up her ghosts. The focus may be lesbian, but the feelings are universal — anger, betrayal, hurt, rejection, self-deprecation, searching for love. It’s not only the raw, sexually charged emotion that grabs you; it’s the words — the poetic, rhythmic, sensual, musical language that Moraga magically uses to weave a web of memories. Most of the text is monologue; there are few– but intense — interactions. The deft, dancerly direction of gifted Tijuanan Dora Arreola makes the piece seem gracefully choreographed and otherworldly. The acting is outstanding, with the sadly restrained, menopausal Amalia of Silvia Torres a dim shadow of Stephanie Matthew-Diaz’ magnetic physicality as Marisa and the trapped-animal bravado of Eloisa Ramos as young Corky. It’s a lovely ensemble, a deeply disturbing play, and a simple, beautiful production.
Now, moving from bard to verse, it just doesn’t get any more witty or literate than David Ives. The reclusive, hilarious playwright is a veritable six-ring circus of linguistic acrobatics, as he demonstrates in “All in the Timing,” a sextet of playlets that may just split your sides.
With all his literary references, you may think his most profound influences are Milton, Swift, and Kafka — all of whom make appearances in one scene — as monkeys. But Ives is also inspired by the Three Stooges, the Marx Brothers and Monty Python — inspiration that director John Rando takes quite literally, sometimes to excess. As we saw last year with his “Comedy of Errors,” Rando conducts his players with a big shtick. Personally, I prefer the intelligent, articulate Groucho humor of Ives to the unsubtle, Harpo-like horn-honking favored by Rando. In the uproarious simian-scene, for example, the masturbatory monkey-shines nearly upstage the outrageous linguistic antics. But this six-person cast is skillful, and their comic timing — both verbal and physical — is impeccable.
You may not know much about Hamlet, Trotsky, Esperanto, Philip Glass or Philadelphia. But in this brilliant series of tiny little plays, you’ll undoubtedly get caught up in Ives’ wacko world — you may even learn a few words of his new universal language, Unamunda. Beware. You might come away greeting folks with “Velcro!” pardoning yourself saying “Squeegee,” and uttering insanities like ‘Oh my galosh’ and “off corset.” Et cinema, et cinema.
In Ivesland, if things don’t go right the first time, the scene is played over and over, like a Philip Glass minimalist melody. Ultimately, the guy gets the great pickup line — and the girl. And poor doomed Trotsky, surviving for 36 hours with an ax stuck in his head, gets to die in a hundred different ways, reminiscent of every movie death scene you’ve ever witnessed. This is funny, heady stuff. And, incredibly, it’s intellectual humor that’s actually optimistic. The inspermation will leave you blintzful.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1998 Patté Productions Inc.