Golden Fish Theatre at Richard Hugo House
Through April 3.
The Center of Gravity
Theatre Babylon at Union Garage
Through April 17.
The Twilight Zone
Through April 24.
Daisy in the Dreamtime, produced by Golden Fish Theatre, delves into the life of amateur anthropologist Daisy May Bates, who in 1919 abandoned her husband and young son to live with the Aborigines of Australia. Her published observations remain the most intimate record of this decimated culture. Lynne Kaufman's play is less anthropological than biographical, fluidly and elegantly meandering through Daisy's past, present, and future with a structure presumably inspired by the Aboriginal notion of dreamtime. Gorgeous, evocative scenes are given vivid life by director Cynthia White, a uniformly excellent cast (particularly Rachel Hornor, as a German Lutheran nun, and Beethovan Oden, who finds a convincing and unpatronizing performance style for the play's sole Aborigine), and the beautiful set, lighting, and costume design. Unfortunately, though the destruction of one way of life by another is a powerful theme, it's a difficult theme to dramatize effectively, especially when most of the characters are white Europeans. Though Daisy takes the Aboriginal life to her heart, her admirably fierce resistance to change puts stasis at the heart of the play. (With no disrespect to Karen Jo Fairbrook's lively and determined portrayal of Daisy, Hornor's nun--an unintentional agent of destruction--proves to be the most complex and thus compelling character.) I was touched by the ending--well, by the first of three or four endings--but also relieved the show was finally over.
Like Daisy in the Dream- time, Gregory Hischak's The Center of Gravity uses historical figures and bends time to explore a lost moment, but it's less a dream than a jigsaw puzzle. Set in an alternate universe where the Wright brothers' efforts ended in disaster and another inventor became the father of aviation, the play leapfrogs from one jagged fragment of time to another, gradually piecing together a love triangle and sibling rivalry, driven by soft inspirations and hard mathematics. Hischak's background as a poet is evident in the play's freewheeling patterns and rhythmic, circling language. As Orville and Wilbur, Shawn Law and Cory Nealy (who trade roles on different nights) bounce off of each other like the frenzied ideas in the brothers' own heads. Their engaging dynamism is matched by Celene Panariello as Orville's wife, who has a palpable chemistry with both brothers. But Julia Leonas, as the brothers' mother, is woefully out of synch; her flat, sluggish performance squanders the momentum built up by the others, and makes the play--much of which is utterly charming--feel only partially digested.
After enjoying Theater Schmeater's production of The Mystery of Attraction, Marlane Meyer's preposterously lurid play given zest by a solid cast (especially Brandon Whitehead and Kate Czajkowski as a disintegrating couple), I settled in to watch the latest pair of Twilight Zone episodes. I was prepared to bitch about Schmeater trotting out the same scripts over and over, each production more lifeless than the last--when, to my surprise, I completely enjoyed myself. Yes, "The Chaser" has been done a time or two before, and "The Shelter" is such a platonically ideal Twilight Zone episode it's practically generic, but director Linda Lombardi has honed her cheerful, energetic cast to the perfect mix of camp and commitment.
The Twilight Zone's mix of pomposity, cheesy melodrama, and willingness to gaze into the dark side of human nature makes these productions a curious pleasure. They're an odd celebration of an earlier generation's cutting edge, half mocking and half sincere. Maybe it's a kind of nostalgia, not for the shows themselves (no one in this cheering audience was even born when the original show went off the air), but for a time that the show implies by its very tone (particularly the voice of Rod Serling himself, captured in all his wry cynicism by Ray Tagavilla): a time that may never have truly existed, when the revelation of corruption and pettiness could be shocking, when ignorance, bigotry, and selfishness weren't simply the way of the world.