Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: JUNE 5, 2009
Gunshots and ghosts haunt two intense productions. Both take an unblinking look at human nature, the killer instinct, and our faltering capacity for responsibility, remorse, forgiveness and healing. In both plays, spiritually damaged characters try to make sense of senseless acts. Two deep, dark dramas set in modern-day battle-zones: Iraq and the American high school.
“Good Boys,” a 2002 creation by the elusive, unidentified Jane Martin, seems to conflate the Columbine school massacre with the local story of Tariq Khamisa , one young San Diego student murdered by another in 1995. Not long after that tragedy, the fathers of victim and perpetrator banded together, forming a Foundation to help stop bullying and violence in the schools.
In “Good Boys,” eight years have passed since Marcus and eight other students were gunned down by wild, quick-witted and impetuous Ethan, who then turned the pistol on himself. On this day, on a park bench, their fathers meet. The killer’s dad has lost everything – job, wife, son and soul; wracked with guilt and retreating into the bottle, he’s desperately trying to turn his back on the whole affair. The victim’s father, a pastor, can no longer preach; he relentlessly seeks information and understanding. All he wants is to encourage Ethan’s father to ask for forgiveness. The boys — one black, one white — appear in flashbacks, and as spectral visions. Toward the end, the surviving son of the pastor — hurt, angry, devastated — makes an impassioned appearance and tips the fragile balance.
The Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company production is superb, directed with ferocity and sensitivity by founding artistic director Seema Sueko . Her cast is flawless, each carving out a fiery, tortured character.
Torture is the name of the game in “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo,” a white-hot and blood-red world premiere definitely worth a trip to Culver City . Playwright Rajiv Joseph was inspired by the true story of an American soldier in the Iraqi capital who reached through the bars of the caged cat, and had his hand chomped off for the effort. Up till that early moment in the play, the Tiger is talking to us, as foul-mouthed as the Marines guarding the nearly demolished zoo. After he bites the hand that tries to feed him, he’s shot to death. But he keeps reappearing, a moral philosopher plagued by existential musings about who he really is. Every character, almost all of whom either start out or wind up bloodied and dead, asks the same cosmic questions in this stunning, mordant, piercing piece of theater, directed with cunning ingenuity by the brilliant Moisés Kaufman.
Greed, cruelty, intolerance, retribution. Can we ever rise above our baser natures? Prepare to be gobsmacked by these penetrating dramas; their feverish characters and ideas are guaranteed to make you gasp, doubt, marvel, wonder and think.
The Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company production of “Good Boys” continues through June 14 in the Mandell Weiss Forum Studio on the campus of UCSD.
“Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo” runs through June 7 at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City .
©2009 PAT LAUNER