KPBS AIRDATE: May 02, 2003
Power differentials are everywhere. And as both history and current events have shown, oppression often leads to aggression. Dominance can be exploited in all quarters — from the boardroom to the Pentagon, from classroom to kitchen, from the bedroom to the gates of Hell. And directly or indirectly, it’s all played out onstage. Asian American Repertory Theatre and The Fritz have banded together for “Sex and Power,” a David Mamet duet. And the Muse Theatre is presenting “The House of Bernarda Alba,” the taut 1930s drama by Federico Garcia Lorca. In condemning authoritarianism, all three focus on some aspect of subjugation of women in society.
In Lorca’s play, set against the backdrop of rising fascism in Spain, a rigid matriarch represses her five daughters by enforcing an eight-year mourning period for their father. Tension builds and violence ensues. In the contemporary Mamet one-acts, a professor makes a female student feel demeaned in “Oleanna” and she takes revenge. In “Bobby Gould in Hell” an impatient, horned interrogator humorously forces a Hollywood sharpie to confront the abuse of his girlfriend and other heinous acts. “Bobby Gould” is the weakest play in terms of message, but by far the strongest production. Director Katie Rodda displays a wonderful comic touch, with a delicious quartet of performances and some nifty special effects.
In the Asian American Rep production, “Oleanna” has morphed from a highly controversial critique of academia and political correctness to a treatise on inter-sex mis-communication. The direction seems mis-guided, its sexually-charged interludes seriously interfering with Mamet’s carefully calibrated corrosion of the imbalanced teacher-student relationship. All the subtext and subtlety are missing. Denton Davis is wholly professorial, but he virtually ignores the simultaneous devolution of the man’s marriage. Anne Tran succeeds in making the sketchily written student credible, but her costumes tend toward the seductive and like the interludes, they distort Mamet’s intent.
According to playwright Lorca, “Bernarda Alba” was written not as a poem, but as a “photographic documentary.” Director Francine Chemnick needs to accentuate her sporadically lovely stage pictures and heighten the seething intensity beneath the surface. After a slow-paced start, the calamitous household emerges as too polite and mannered; the underplayed severity and passion diminish the shock of the violent ending. But kudos to the Muse for continuing to take dramatic risks.
Applause is always due to theaters who make us view our present in light of the past; suppression of rights, then as now, will always provoke rebellion.
©2003 Patté Productions Inc.