KPBS AIRDATE: July 09, 2004
Theatergoers, take note. Especially those with good attention spans and those who lived through the ’60s. “Continental Divide,” David Edgar’s epic, two-play cycle, requires patience, careful listening and a penchant for politics.
In a broad sense, the plays concern a fictitious gubernatorial election, clearly set in California, and seen from both sides of the political aisle. But they’re really about values, ideals and political convictions, and how hard it is to hold onto them as you age, grow more successful and become more jaded. The plays also consider utopias, how each side saw them, and how they continue to proliferate — among the tree-huggers as well as the militant militias.
It’s easy to get buried in all the rhetoric of these wordy, idea-drenched plays. They’re shown at the La Jolla Playhouse in repertory, and you can see them in any order, or even back-to-back. But that’s a whole lotta theater in one day. I’d suggest seeing “Mothers Against” first and then “Daughters of the Revolution.”
“Mothers” looks behind the scenes at the Republican prep for the TV debate. “Daughters” is set in the Democratic camp, though some characters make appearances in both plays. On the Republican side, the sympathetic candidate is really a libertarian. His family is in conflict. His radical daughter is an environmental activist. And his advisors don’t see eye to eye. It takes awhile for “Mothers” to pick up steam, which it does in the second act, with the brutal debate rehearsal.
“Daughters” starts right off with a bang, at a big birthday bash for 55 year-old Michael. As a kind of gag gift, his partner presents him with his FBI file, where he finds his ’60s activism well documented. This might impact his upcoming State commission post, given to him by the incumbent Democratic governor, who’s got her own struggles, linked to a staffer’s ’60s indiscretions. Back at Michael’s party, his file also reveals that one of his militant buddies betrayed him. The rest of the play becomes a whodunit, as Michael seeks out the snitch among the seven former activists, all linked in some way to the current campaign and its hot-potato issues, which include a controversial Proposition requiring a loyalty oath. The second act takes to the woods, and opens with a breathtaking scene of tree-lovers rappelling down giant redwoods. Big-screen projections and inventive scenic design are more effective in “Daughters,” and there are a few more characters to care about.
Tony Taccone, who directed all prior productions of the cycle, shepherds his flexible cast through the dense forest of ideas. The nearly six-hour journey of these two plays exposes the seamy underbelly of American politics. But in this election year, it also reminds us of the danger of selling out — or remaining uninvolved.
©2004 Patté Productions Inc.