Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Closing the Fringe with Mom - Part 6

Day 2

I Hate This
Bad Epitaph Theater

Mom says, "I'm sure it was very cathartic for him. Maybe it's a guy thing."

Rik Reppe gave this a glowing review, and everything I'd read about it was equally praiseworthy. Maybe following Staggering Toward America is simply an impossible task. But neither Mom nor I was as engaged by this piece.

However, there is much to admire here, and it's certainly in the upper echelon of Fringe shows this year. It portrays, with blessedly generous portions of (dark) humor, the male side of the experience of having a baby arrive stillborn. That is both its greatest strength, and perhaps where its weakness lies.

Strength - we don't see men talking about this subject. Few are both articulate enough to convey the experience and also open to sharing that kind of ordeal, reliving the pain with others. So in this sense it was unique. Also, the structure was helpful in getting the audience through the event and its fallout. Since the story wasn't told in strictly linear fashion, we didn't have to dwell in any one particular uncomfortable spot for very long. In addition, there were riffs - certain characters and situations - which evolved as he returned to them, yet were familiar enough to the audience that we could use them as anchors to pull us through the story.

Weakness - the only character who was fully realized was that of the playwright/performer himself. That, in and of itself, given the subject matter, is quite a feat. However, I think the thing missing for mom, and I know the thing missing for me, was the man's wife in all this. After all, she was going through this experience, too. Revealing more of her character, her pain and her journey, would have balanced and filled out the picture. Maybe he didn't feel it was his place to speak for her. Maybe that's literally a place that a man can't go. But I don't think including her in a more active fashion would have negated or diminished the presentation of any of the things he was going through.

Also, there was, understandably, a lot of anger in this play. It bordered on being unsympathetic. The central character seemed to have no time or patience for anyone else. As I say, this is understandable. But the good people they no doubt ran across rate barely a mention, while the often jaw-droppingly insensitive characters get plenty of stage time.

As I write this, I realize that it sounds foolish to ask this play about a dark subject to lighten up. It's probably as light as it can be. The focus of the play was chosen for a reason. The world I am invited into, and I am invited in, not merely preached at - again, no small feat, given the subject matter and legitimate causes for anger involved - that world makes me think, and to see my own world in a very different light. Perhaps that's all we can really ask of any play. And this brave, honest and frequently funny work does that. It's a great deal more than most plays do these days.

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