KPBS AIRDATE: April 13, 2007
It’s a rare and singular experience, the kind every theaterlover lives for – having a response to a production that’s so visceral, so intense, it literally takes your breath away. This week, I had it twice. Both plays were about life and death. But one focuses on love, and one on war. Small San Diego theaters presenting West coast premieres by highly acclaimed playwrights.
Eve Ensler, best known for “The Vagina Monologues,” has always been a political writer. In “The Treatment,” she’s turned her attention from women to war. It could be any war, since it remains unidentified. But this drama is clearly about a war where “all the rules have changed,” as the unnamed characters say. With its torture centers and ‘enemy combatants,’ it feels very pertinent and particular.
Ensler isn’t a very subtle playwright; she just puts her political anxieties right out there. What she’s focusing on in this two-person play is the devastating aftermath of war, and questions of duty, victimization and accountability. The Sergeant is suffering from a debilitating case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The Major, a stiff, starched female psychotherapist, turns out to be as much a professional interrogator as he is. As she employs her increasingly unconventional and implausible techniques of extracting information, we witness a tormented man completely unravel, literally reduced to the naked truth. It’s almost too much to watch at times. It feels voyeuristic. So personal and painful.
At Moxie Theatre, under the meticulous direction of Delicia Turner Sonnenberg, Matt Scott’s tour de force performance is so emotionally raw, so gut-wrenching, it’s both chilling and thrilling. The play definitely has problems, but it makes you think about all the thousands of other haunted and scarred war veterans who’ve been made to do things they can’t live with.
No less philosophical, “Sailor’s Song” is about coming to grips with death, too. But it’s also about embracing life. It concerns love and romance, and what it means to be a man, and to be honest with yourself. Making choices. And facing reality, not having some idealized, romanticized view of life and love.
At the center of this memory play is Rich, a confused, unsettled and starry-eyed commercial sailor visiting his uncle and his dying aunt. In the local seaside bar, he meets two provocative, irresistible sisters. He just can’t make up his mind – about them, about anything. You might say he’s a seaman at sea.
John Patrick Shanley, who wrote the Oscar-winning movie, “Moonstruck,” and the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “Doubt,” knows a thing or two about wringing laughter out of drama. But there’s another deliciously unpredictable twist here: At every dramatic or romantic moment – falling in love or dying or grieving – every deep-feeling instant that’s especially difficult to talk about – the characters break into dance. In less deft hands, this conceit might not work. But at New Village Arts, under the expert direction of co-founder Kristianne Kurner, it’s beautiful and heart-rending. There’s a great deal of passion and emotion in those dances. And the ensemble is outstanding. They usher us in and out of a kind of magical realism in this quirky, often funny and thought-provoking play.
What a lucky week! Two back-to-back dramas that stir the mind and the heart.
© 2007 Patté Productions, Inc.
The Moxie Theatre production of “The Treatment” continues through April 29 at the Lyceum Theatre in Horton Plaza.
“Sailor’s Song,” presented by New Village Arts, also runs through April 29, at the Jazzercise Space in Carlsbad.