KPBS AIRDATE: June 03, 2005
Two plays that focus on moral matters; I’d call that a very good week in the theater. Honesty is at issue in “Death by Survival” and “Lobby Hero,” and both are relevant to our times.
The local premiere of the play Time Out New York called “the best drama, the best comedy, the best romance, the best character study and the best issue play all rolled into one,” lives up to expectations. “Lobby Hero,” written by the enormously talented playwright and screenwriter Kenneth Lonergan, is set in his home turf of New York, in a hotel lobby where we meet two police officers and two security guards. Each has a credo to live by, and each will betray that creed and someone else as well, during the course of the tense interactions.
It’s all about right and wrong. When is it necessary to tell the truth, and when is it damaging? What’s the boundary between a little white lie, a self-destructive falsehood and flat-out perjury? There are black and white people here, but no black and white solutions. Morality and legality come in shades of gray in this deliciously intense array of conundrums and finely-etched characters. Under Kirsten Brandt’s taut direction, the cast is superb: local favorite Nick Cordileone as the well-intentioned slacker of the title; J. August Richards as his uptight, upright supervisor; Lauren Lovett as the lovely young rookie and Mark Espinoza as her manipulative, misogynist partner. They play off each other beautifully in this well-crafted, well-designed, fierce and often funny battle of the wills and wits. So many juicy ‘what would you do?’ scenarios; you’ll be chewing on them long into the night.
Playwright Elizabeth Ruiz also has a great deal on her mind – maybe too much for one play. “Death by Survival” is about the “Dirty War” in Argentina, the “Reign of Terror” of the 1970s and ‘80s that “disappeared” some 11,000 people. The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, mostly angry, grief-stricken housewives, kept the resistance to the atrocities alive. They open the play, but its choppy, episodic structure makes it feel more like a movie script, with its quick-scenes, cross-cuts and time-hopping. A cast of 14 plays nearly 50 characters, many of which are unnecessary or insufficiently developed. The near-future, post-9/11 New York segments belong in another play. It’s easy enough to see the parallels of those perilous times to our own; we don’t need a roadmap. Under Dori Salois’ direction, the game if uneven cast gives the piece plenty of grit and guts. The play may be flawed, but its themes are important and thought-provoking. And thinking, in these highly-charged, political and anti-intellectual times, is a very good thing, indeed.
©2005 Patté Productions Inc.