KPBS AIRDATE: August 25, 2006
Theater, where the old meets the new. A fledgling company marks a great playwright’s centenary, and the Old Globe presents a provocative world premiere. A celebration of two influential men: Henrik Ibsen, the father of modern drama, and Abraham Lincoln, our 16th president.
“Lincolnesque” is the title of a new play, by John Strand, and also a description of its central character. Poor deluded Francis thinks he is the great man. He’s long and lean and wears a black cutaway coat. He stands on pedestals and orates, expounding eloquent Lincoln quotes, all of which, in the face of our current political climate, sound eerily relevant. Francis has recently been released from a psychiatric hospital. But he was once a brilliant Washington strategist. He befriends a hapless homeless man who also was once a major player. Francis is protected by his brother Leo, a speech-writer for a weak Congressional candidate. Now Leo’s up against a wall; his man is behind in the polls. His new, female, take-no-prisoners boss is putting the squeeze on him. And suddenly, he gets, as Dr. Seuss once said, “a wonderful, awful idea.” Francis becomes caught up in the “carnage” and “cannibalism” of the capital. As one monstrous politico reminds us, “In war or politics,” you want “professional killers… on your side.” Strand ’s characters are compelling and excellently portrayed, especially T. Ryder Smith as the often-lucid lunatic. Director Joe Calarco keeps the action brisk and suspenseful. Only the schmaltzy underscoring is overdone. But the insights about war, politics and our undying need for a hero really hit home. My husband and I discussed the play for hours; like Francis, we couldn’t agree on the line between fantasy and reality.
It’s a fine line in Henrik Ibsen’s rarely seen “Eyolf,” another of the great Norwegian playwright’s biting portraits of a toxic marriage. In this beguiling first offering by the new Tonic Productions, the opening scene is a beautifully stylized masked charade, playing out a seduction and rejection. Then the real action begins, and a tragic accident occurs; we come to see that the relationship of Al fred and Rita Al lmers is glass-smooth on the surface, but after multiple emotional explosions, horrific truths are told and lives are shattered. Under the precise direction of Dustin Condren, all the ugly underpinnings are slowly revealed, a bit too slowly at times. Some of the performances are a tad mannered, and the mythical, bewitching Rat-Wife is less sinister and otherworldly than she should be. But overall, the production is mesmerizing, and the 1894 drama’s psychological depth, desolation and complexity remain chilling.
These are plays that force you to look around, and look inside. And though that may be disquieting, it’s also invigorating.
©2006 Patté Productions Inc.