Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
March 14, 2014
Wars can be fought on a wide range of battlegrounds, from a post-apocalyptic wasteland to a rickety card table. Three plays show how humans are devalued, and how easily they can be deluded: by governments, organizations, or themselves.
ion theatre is presenting a duet of unnerving dystopias by female British playwrights. Sam Holcroft’s “Edgar & Annabel” is set in an Orwellian surveillance state. Caryl Churchill’s “Far Away” takes place in a panic-ridden society in which nature is at war with itself. Both plays are opaque and perplexing. They don’t spell out the details, but you can smell the fear.
Edgar and Annabel are code names for revolutionaries against a totalitarian regime. They’re an innocuous couple in a nondescript house. The dissidents play-act the roles in front of the extreme auditory monitoring systems, actually reading from scripts that feature the inanities of everyday conversation, starting with, “Hi, Honey, I’m home!”
When they invite another couple over, it’s a frenzied evening of competitive karaoke while clandestinely creating a pipe bomb. The rebels are frequently and harshly censured by their superior. Their group turns out to be as controlling as the government. They’re just pawns, and if they don’t play their roles to specification, they’re out, disappeared, probably obliterated. This is a harrowing 2011 portrait of ideology gone haywire.
In “Far Away,” the whole world has gone mad. In 2000, Churchill, one of the most political of playwrights, conjured an international war-zone where alliances are shifting by the minute. Among the shocking reports of torture and debasement, there are darkly comic news updates like, “The cats have come in on the side of the French,” “Weather is on the side of the Japanese” and “The Bolivians are working with gravity.”
At the outset, a young girl questions her aunt about the horrors she’s watched her uncle perpetrate on screaming children. Then, we see her grown up, a rising star in a hat factory, creating elaborate headgear that will be worn in a macabre parade of leg-chained prisoners on a death-march.
We never fully understand what motivates either of these grisly scenarios, but both plays are enacted by an excellent eight-member ensemble, expertly helmed by Linda Libby, with strong design support.
Far more earthbound and comprehensible is the Donald Coburn 1978 Pulitzer Prize- winning tragi -comedy, “The Gin Game,” now getting an estimable production by Talent to aMuse Theatre Company. Two septuagenarians are captives in a Welfare nursing home. Their budding friendship is played out in a series of emotionally escalating card games, during which they humiliate each other, while revealing their loneliness, despair, regret and rage. The inter-scene music is inexplicably French, but Sandy Hotchkiss and O.P. Hadlock are completely credible, their characters both brutal and self-deluded.
These are bleak dramas, tinged with black humor. Prepare to be unsettled.
The Talent to aMuse production of “The Gin Game” runs through March 16, at the 10th Avenue Theatre downtown.
“Edgar & Annbel ” and “Far Away” continue through March 29 at ion theatre, on the edge of Hillcrest.
©2014 PAT LAUNER