Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS Jazz88
“Dying City” – Cygnet Theatre
“Fool for Love” – New Village Arts
AIRDATE: OCTOBER 10, 2008
Drama as myth and metaphor. Two dark, intense plays reflect the fiery ethos of America played out as domestic conflagration. Both are intense and claustrophobic. Both feature intimate love-hate relationships, dysfunctional families, and the sins of fathers visited on the sons. Both say something about our collective state of mind and morality.
Writer/actor/director Sam Shepard created “Fool for Love” in 1983, continuing his dark explorations of the American Dream and the American West. Though the piece is about one obsessive couple and their heated, push-me/pull-you relationship, it plays out on a larger landscape – the deep-seated American ambivalence between the quest for freedom and the search for roots. May and Eddie have had an on again/off again relationship since high school. They can’t live with or without each other, attracted and repelled by shared history and intensity. She can’t resist and he can’t commit. So they circle around each other in a verbally and physically violent, passionate pas de deux that’s observed by the new man in May’s life and the Old Man who exists only in their imaginations, the father whose irresponsibility and infidelity foreshadows his son’s.
At New Village Arts in Carlsbad , Kristianne Kurner and Joshua Everett Johnson prove formidable adversaries. They pull off the anger and ardor equally well. They’re both ready for the kill. And it’s killer to watch them in this excellent production, finely directed by Dana Case.
Down at Cygnet Theatre, family relations aren’t too friendly either. Christopher Shinn’s “ Dying City ,” a finalist for last year’s Pulitzer Prize, is set against a backdrop of post-9/11 angst and the Iraq War. The political informs the personal. This is a family story, about a Ph.D. student who went to war, where he lost his patriotism and his life, under suspicious circumstances. We see flashbacks to the night before he left, which reveal his arrogant, abusive relationship with his mousy, devoted wife. In the present, we watch his twin brother pay an unexpected and unwanted visit to the widow. He says he comes in love, but his passive-aggressive agenda is competitive and destructive. The twins had an abusive, misogynistic father. And so the cycle continues. Violence in the home, the playwright is obliquely telling us, gives rise to the violence of a country.
The conceit of this not-quite-satisfying drama is that the two brothers are played by a single actor. Sean Cox does a masterful job morphing from the supercilious academic and would-be soldier to the sniveling, stammering gay actor. Christy Yael is the traumatized victim of both men, and of her father, before them. She tries to move on, but the play doesn’t leave us with a whole lot of hope.
Both productions are powerful and thought-provoking, especially if you look beyond the text to the brutal messages beneath the surface brutality.
“Fool for Love” runs through October 26, at New Village Arts in Carlsbad .
“Dying City continues through October 26 at Cygnet Theatre near SDSU.
©2008 PAT LAUNER
FUNDING FOR “PAT LAUNER, CENTER STAGE,” IS PROVIDED BY THE ELAINE LIPINSKY FAMILY FOUNDATION.