According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Nature on stage is almost always thrilling. Bringing the outdoors inside, and into a fabricated set – a fabricated world – can provide a vibrant shock to the viewer: a reminder, if you will, of how you are watching a performance, something unnatural, yet something unquestionably connected to the natural. However, even the rush of nature isn’t enough to sustain this evening of theater.
Review by Amanda Cooper
The narrow set of Widows extends almost the entire length of 59E59’s Studio B, pushing the audience out onto the borders of the space around the stage. Jutting up from one side of the pale pine raised floor is a tree, its branches ending just short of the ceiling. The tree is barren, but it is effective, peaceful, and dark. This is not the only well-executed use of nature in this play – at times there are sudden splashes of water, and even bright brown dirt. Unfortunately, these elements are by far the strongest aspects of this production. Widows is a play unsure of its identity, and Reverie’s production, a New York premiere, fails to focus the work.
With eighteen actors (and even more characters), Widows takes place in an unnamed Latin American town, during an unspecified year. As playwright Ariel Dorfman is a contemporary politically minded Chilean author, we can assume the country is Chile. From the costumes and the country’s history, we can assume the time is the 1970s, when political turmoil led to the disappearance of many citizens. But there is nothing in the production (or even any program notes) to help the average (educated) New York viewer gain this information. What is clear though, is that this is a village filled with potentially widowed women and families, and all the men (save a few government placed soldiers, a boy, and the priest) have either been killed or kidnapped. And now, as the country attempts to move forward, an army captain transferred to town must navigate the sorrow, loss, and coping mechanisms of this community of women who pine for their husbands, brothers and sons. Leading these women is daughter, wife, mother, and grandmother Sofia (Ching Valdez-Aran), whose losses have left her unwilling to move from the riverbank. The play’s setup feels like a fable, and the performers’ melodramatic presentation does, too. Yet all the plot points are grounded in reality – everything that happens is plausible.
Director Hal Brooks is skilled at moving actors naturally around a playing space, but even so, the stage often feels crowded with too large a number of actors for the square footage provided. Brooks has also created a worn, abused energy appropriate for the play’s dire situation. Yet these elements often overshadow the most compelling characters – not the ones with a clear moral center, but those filled with inner conflict, such as Mark Alhadeff’s Captain, or Veronica Cruz’s affecting portrayal as the married Cecilia, who has found new love with a soldier. As the widows, in their Greek Chorus-like state, desperately claw for closure from their past, the play searches for a message beyond “violence and political turmoil bring out the worst in even good people.” The story's content and context seems slated to reach further. Is there not more exploration to be done with nature, and its contrast with our man-made wars? But that’s just one element for thought. In a country currently in a seemingly endless war, we can - we should - expect more from our wartime plays.