KPBS AIRDATE: February 21, 2003
There’s something disturbing afoot in “Splendour.” In Abi Morgan’s new play, currently having its American premiere at the Globe Theatres, a great deal is bubbling under the surface. We see four women, trapped in a palace, in a country, under governmental control. We learn a bit about them, in jagged pieces, snippets of dialogue and subtext, inner monologue and superficial pleasantries. In staccato, non-linear rhythm, scenes are replayed, a new layer is revealed. The audience has to work to keep up, to put the pieces together, to read between the lines. We struggle to understand the relationships and the motivations. The play challenges the imagination, attention and ultimately, the patience.
The underlying disturbance goes beyond the dictatorship of this unnamed country, beyond the implications of each woman’s actions, beyond the anxious pacing of these four caged animals, penned in place while a snow-storm and a civil war rage outside. At the end, we come to the distressing realization that we have been urged down a crooked, brambled path that leads… nowhere. We have sat for 100 minutes, we have endured the playwright’s experimentation with form at the expense of content, and we are less than satisfied. We get a cursory glimpse at what drives these four survivors. But we don’t learn enough to fully understand their inner workings — or to care. We may even come to the point of resentment; all this effort and no payoff. The setup is so intriguing. But less is revealed than is left unexplained.
Though these women have names, they are identified as prototypes: the wife, the interpreter, the photographer, the informer. Many contrapuntal opportunities — but this fugue ends in dissonance, and an unresolved chord. The play is reminiscent of Lisa Loomer’s “The Waiting Room,” with its suffering women of different sorts, but that is a much more deep and rewarding effort. Here, the political ramifications are frustratingly unexplored. Nonetheless, the performances are compelling, especially Gordana Roshovich as the dictator’s Imelda-like wife, and as her beaten-down, colorless friend, AKA the informer, Monique Fowler rises to an impressive emotional crescendo. As characters, the photographer and interpreter are less clearly defined though well played by Joanna Glushak and Chelsey Rives. The set is lovely, the costumes apt, the lighting and sound evocative, but the direction (by Karen Carpenter) is less varied than one might hope, played at just one note, one flat level. This doesn’t help us reach any epiphany or catharsis. And without that, why are we watching a drama at all? Morgan clearly has a voice and a vision. But her play is an exercise in frustration, and this production is far less splendid than promised.
©2003 Patté Productions Inc.