Photo by Jim Baldassare
Reviewed by Cindy Pierre
Scenic Designer Czerton Lim transforms the ArcLight Theatre's stage into Max's (Lydia Gaston) studious home in Judi L. Komaki's If Truth Be Known. The congested stage, displaying three settings simultaneously with nary a much needed partition, is much more distracting to the eye than the actors are engrossing. The entrance of Max and Philip (James Patrick Earley), timid in enunciation and presence, creates within the modest space the illusion of a cavern. David M. Lawson's intro music, overlapping with the opening lines, further stifles their impact.If Truth Be Known demands a great deal from its audience. In order to be engrossed, one must suspend disbelief of relationships and intimacy. Earley and Gaston feign both as they struggle to command empathy, or at the very least, attention. There is simply no chemistry between this couple, and when Max says that Philip makes her "melt", there is a hint of a grimace.
The patron is also asked to conjure settings that are superimposed unto the three rigid ones (bedroom, dining room and living room) that are already there. Blink once, and you're in a moving car. Blink twice, and you're on the shore, basking in the spray of sailboats. Unfortunately, rather than catapult myself into these ethereal settings as they were created, I was instead preoccupied with ways in which to make the transitions more fluid and credible. I came up with a scenario for each one. A simple reorganization or omitting of some of the props and purposeful direction by Christine Simpson would improve the show's plausibility.The bedroom scenes, executed in the background, are tepid not only because the props obstruct the view, but because the performers are withdrawing further from volume.
Constance Boardman, as Max's aunt Jane, is the only performer who comes close to being a spitfire. She is zany and fun, but unfortunately functions as the conduit for the "Asian Princess" awareness one too many times. As the voice of caution and a clinical psychology hopeful, her work with Vietnam Veterans bludgeons the audience with social consciousness and the challenges of Asian American acceptance.
A topic broached by If Truth Be Known that could have been more elaborate is the Japanese concentration camps during the time of World War II. A subject seldom explored on the stage, Max's mother Mrs. Ota (an overactive Bea Soong) provides an enticing glance, but I wanted to be fed with more history. She is also the portal to Max's heritage, and holds steadfast to her roots even in the midst of American assimilation. Had Komaki focused on this theme rather than juggle the various dense subjects that could not be properly handled in less than two hours, her play would have fared better.
A valiant though unsuccessful effort, If Truth Be Known aims to question your threshold for the truth. Do we, in fact, want all of the facts, even if it discomforts us? Or, like the play, do we prefer to just gloss over the details? If you prefer the former, then this piece will leave much to be desired.
Through June 24th. $20. Tickets: 212-868-4444. ArcLight Theatre 152 West 71st Street,New York, NY 10023