KPBS AIRDATE: April 09, 2004
How do you like your drama? High-flying acrobatics or interior turmoil? Motion or stasis. In one corner, there’s Cirque du Soleil’s eye-popping, jaw-dropping “Varekai.” But for a quiet night of social-political commentary, you won’t want to miss “Still Life” at New Village Arts.
You know all about the Cirque; outrageous acts, incredible costumes, little plot but lots of glitz. “Varekai” is a better, more focused show than the hodge-podge that was “Dralion.” Under the Grande Chapiteau, 2600 wide-eyed onlookers gape at body skaters, flight in a net, hand-balancing on canes, virtuoso juggling and even a dance number or two. In the Romany language of the wandering gypsies, ‘Varekai’ means ‘Wherever, and that’s where the show is set, in a dreamland of kaleidoscopic colors and fantastical creatures. The impetuous flyer Icarus is brought down, but he’ll be back in the air, as soon as he’s out of the enchanted forest. The little Cirque has grown enormous and extravagant, but it still manages to capture the best of ingenuity, concentration and aerial intensity.
There’s intensity of another sort up in North County, where New Village Arts is presenting Emily Mann’s haunting docu-drama, “Still Life.” Set in the late ’70s, the Obie Award-winning play is taken verbatim from interviews with veterans and their families. It tells the story of a Marine who’s been back from Vietnam for eight years but he can’t seem to get ‘back in the world.’ His lover finds him a tender, passionate artist. His pregnant wife describes him as abusive and irresponsible.
The characters talk directly to the audience, as if we’re journalists, dramatists or psychiatrists. They barely look at each other and never interact. Their stories echo and intertwine, punctuated by gut-wrenching slides of Vietnam buddies and victims. These characters are victims, too… the casualties of war. Now we call it Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. But it doesn’t only affect the soldiers; they bring it home and the violence continues, both internally and domestically.
The performances, under the taut direction of Kristiane Kurner, suck us into this world of damaged souls. Francis Gercke is a haunted man, unable to forget or move on, a mess of vacant eyes and nervous mouth. As his mistress, Monique Gaffney appears independent, analytical, dispassionate, but she’s really lonely and lost. Most heart-breaking is Amy Cordileone as the wife — pregnant, beaten down, despairing yet still hanging onto a shred of hope. This is unblinking theater that stares you down. There’s little action, but you’re sure to be moved. On the surface, the piece is historical, but as a nation, we’re right back where we were 30 years ago. The dramatic choice is yours: pure escape or thinking the hard thoughts.
©2004 Patté Productions Inc.