KPBS AIRDATE: February 10, 1993 >
A critic can get pretty jaded. We see lots of plays, sometimes four or five a week. Some are unwatchable; some are mediocre, and some make you remember why you keep doing this in the first place. “Redwood Curtain” is one of those plays, one that touched me at a very deep level, and at the end, left me motionless but profoundly moved.
The stage lights go up, and you gasp. John Lee Beatty’s set design is nothing short of breath-taking. There we are, in the middle of a redwood forest — huge, ancient monoliths stretching up to infinity, shrouded in mist, eerie and majestic. Later, we’re invited into a spectacular Northern California home, a kind of Frank Lloyd Wright affair, which ultimately folds miraculously into itself and plants us back among the redwoods. This is theater magic.
Both on and off the stage, we’re treated to real ensemble work. Beatty has designed for Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lanford Wilson for years. Wilson and director Marshall Mason are the longest-running writer-director team in the American theater. It shows. Everyone is on the same wave length, and we are transported there, too.
There are two wanderers in this redwood forest: a wide-eyed Amerasian girl and a wild-eyed Vietnam veteran. She’s searching for her past; he’s trying to avoid his. Both are significant reflections of our Vietnam legacy: the 40,000 births and the 5-8000 walking dead who inhabit the redwoods of northern California and the Pacific Northwest.
Lyman is one of those furtive, ghostly Vets who lives behind the Redwood Curtain. Geri is a brilliant, 17 year-old piano prodigy, obsessively looking for her G.I. father. Wilson takes the story one more layer deep, adding Geneva, Geri’s flip, funny, wealthy aunt, who lives on the edge of the redwoods and is watching them being destroyed, as the caring, family pulp mill business is forced into a hostile takeover.
The language is beautiful, poetic. The rhythm of the piece is hypnotic. It’s mystical and magical. Geri has supernatural powers. So do the play and the production.
Jeff Daniels is spellbinding as the haunted Lyman, who has more answers than anyone dreamed. Debra Monk is a knowing, multi-layered Geneva. And young Sung Yun Cho, though she gets off to a shaky start and has a tendency to overact, manages to make us believe that Geri can control the weather — and the piano. As the plot mystery unfolds, we are drawn deeper into the play, and closer to its multiple themes of loss, family, collective and individual guilt, destruction and restoration, human bonding and human frailty. If you’re a theater-lover, that’s far too much for you to miss.
… As you plan to venture into the forest, consider “A Walk in the Woods,” a stirring presentation at Onstage Productions in Chula Vista. It’s worth the trip.
Directed with care by Anisa Cox, Lee Blessing’s powerhouse interaction between an American and a Soviet arms negotiator is by no means outdated. It raises disturbing questions about today’s world-wide arms proliferation — and peace talks.
Bruce Erricson is thoroughly charming as the smug, cynical, humorous Russian and Danny Campbell is his perfect foil — the uptight, all-business American, who loses some of his innocence and optimism during a series of walks in the Geneva woods.
Emerging from these two “forests,” touched by nature — and human nature — I can’t help thinking of that familiar Robert Frost phrase, “The woods are lovely, dark and deep.”
I’m Pat Launer, for KPBS radio.
©1993 Patté Productions Inc.