KPBS AIRDATE: June 10, 1992
A woman lies flat on a padded table, center stage. A man bends over her, apparently transfixed. Slowly, he moves his hands up and down the length of her body, not making direct contact, but tracing her outline, carving her image above her in space.
This is a recurring scene in “The Touch,” an American premiere presented by Ensemble Arts Theatre. It’s also a metaphor for the production. The outlines of characters are sketched, but the details aren’t filled in. Questions are posed but not answered. We feel the power behind the acts we witness, but we are not touched.
Welsh playwright Peter Lloyd has crafted a one-act piece about a psychic healer who appears one evening in a dingy village in Wales . Three women become his patients. They are all in pain, physically or emotionally. For a time at least, each of them becomes enthralled, sucked in by the power of the healer. They want everything to be better. He delivers something to each, though not precisely what they may have wanted. And he exacts a pretty high price. Each in some way gives to him, and each is in some way taken. Did he in fact help them at all, or did he create more harm than healing?
While watching “The Touch,” one is drawn inexorably to thoughts of sexual exploits of psychiatrists, philandering televangelists, bosses taking advantage of their employees, men in general harassing women.
So, “The Touch” sounds pretty interesting, right? Well it is — sometimes. For an intermissionless ninety minutes, though, it sometimes drags. Particularly in the interactions among the women. These three roles are not very strongly drawn or played, though Christina Courtenay brings an aching depth to her character. But there is a palpable flow of energy when Walter Murray, as the healer, starts the laying on of hands. Murray brings just the right mix of enigma and intensity to his role, and when he touches the women, sparks fly. But they never quite ignite.
“The Touch” is another quirky piece brought back from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival by Ensemble Arts’ talented artistic director, Glynn Bedington. For the first time, she’s handed over the directorial reins — to staff member Karin Williams. Although Williams did a good job, I couldn’t help but wonder what Bedington, with her visceral, muscular directing style, would have done with the play. She confined herself to set design this time, and the result is minimalist, to say the least. But that’s in keeping with the company’s new venue, the Fritz Theatre downtown. This first-time cooperative effort represents an ideal match. Both groups prefer to stand a bit off-center, and that’s always refreshing.
As for the play, well, like the healer, it doesn’t quite deliver what it promised. But you don’t come away with nothing; the piece may not touch you, but it will make you think.
I’m Pat Launer, for KPBS radio.
©1992 Patté Productions Inc.