KPBS AIRDATE: APRIL 29, 1998
Faith features prominently in two current productions: “Flight” and “The Adjustment.” But in one of them, religion upstages the story.
“Flight” is the third play by Guatemalan Arthur Giron to be produced at Lamb’s Players Theatre. Each of his pieces has more than its share of pulpit-thumping, which is congruous with the mission of Lamb’s. But every dogma has its day. And in the case of the Wright brothers, their father’s evangelism may have shaped who they were and affected what they did, but it isn’t the crux of their creativity, and it’s the least interesting part of the play. The protracted first act of “Flight” reveals, most repetitively, the sibling rivalry between the brothers, the sickliness of their inspirational mother, and the monstrousness of their itinerant preacher father, who returns home from the Wild West only once a year. He’s the kind of fundamentalist who threatens his sons with a shotgun. He’s also a hidebound, doctrinaire misogynist, who miraculously becomes a nice guy in Act Two. Meanwhile, his sons keep fighting, his wife keeps dying, and the ideas for a flying machine keep germinating. This is a story about the seeds of a brilliant invention, but like the turn-of-the-century test runs of the brothers’ creation, the play plummets to the ground.
The Lamb’s production is clunky and joyless, heavy-handed in its sermonizing, and tedious in its execution. There is no lightness, no humor, no sense of the passion and spirit of inspired inventors. Instead, there is a lot of shouting and fighting and unmotivated transformation. The second act picks up a bit, but there’s too little drama, too late. The direction and acting focus more on histrionics than history-in-the-making. The high point is Mike Buckley’s outstanding set, a suggestive, curvaceous balsa-wood creation, that, for one final magical moment, renders Orville, and the production, airborne.
Now, in the matter of dialogue and lack of diatribe, “The Adjustment” soars. Religion is central to its theme of faith and where it can lead you, but director Richard Fellner feels no compunction to hammer the Judaism home. The plays’ premise sounds like a joke: a Hasidic chiropractor with Parkinson’s disease. A political lobbyist with a pain in the neck. And a series of adjustments — spinal, ethical and philosophical.
It’s a memory play, taking place in the mind of the lobbyist, Sharon (who considers herself “sort of Jewish” — just as Dr. Matthew Cohen considers himself “sort of Hasidic.” Which to me, is like being “sort of pregnant”). Anyway, he’s a staunch follower of a Rabbi Schimmel, who’s sort of based on Rabbi Schneerson, the late, charismatic leader of the Lubavich movement. A love interest develops, even though Matt is married. And then there’s the matter of a surgery which could cure his Parkinson’s, but which his Rebbe won’t allow because it requires use of tissue from aborted fetuses. Oy vey! There are lots of issues here — but especially the price paid for blind faith, for hypocrisy, for honesty and for love.
The play is funny but flawed; there are some unbelievable secondary characters — like a laughing/crying doctor who’s been on-call too long — and some hard-to-swallow resolutions and redemptions at the end. But playwright Michael Folie has a sense of dramatic rhythm, comic timing and topics worthy of debate.
The North Coast Rep production is delightful. Marty Burnett’s set is an appropriate suggestion of the split between secular and religious law. D. Candis Paule is perfect as the tough-talking politico who’s armadillo on the outside but marshmallow on the inside. Don Loper is sweetly credible as the tremor-and-angst-ridden doctor, and Charlie Riendeau is a hoot in a variety of roles ranging from a gay businessman to a Latino activist to a rabbinical toady.
Almost everyone will do almost anything for money. Almost. And that’s what gives “The Adjustment” its spine.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1998 Patté Productions Inc.