Mixed Reaction Reunion with ex-Lover
Shooting the Stars, an In the Moment Theatre production, opened this past weekend at Eclectic Theatre. It was full of nostalgia, for those of us, who went to college in the 1970’s, in quintessential activitist college towns like Madison, Wisconsin, where it took place. However, the script played on stereotypes and clichés so much that even two very fine actors and a competent director ( Jeff Woodbridge) could not rescue it from sit-com and soap-opera predictability.
The play opens in an airport waiting lounge during the middle of a horrendous snow-storm, when flights are delayed. A middle-aged man and woman, suspiciously eye-each other, and realize that they have inadvertently bumped into their college paramours. At first they do not know whether to acknowledge each other, but eventually they do.
But first, they each address the audience about the peculiar dilemma many people find themselves in, who wholeheartedly “drank the Kool-aide” of the ‘70’s”. That is to say, how to reconcile, where they are now, in what was then called the “straight” world, and the compromises they have made, versus their so-called youthful “idealism”.
Reed Watanbe, played by E.J. Gong, is a mildly successful middle manager for some large corporation, with a marriage on the rocks, and a recently fractured relationship with his teenage daughter. After college, he gave up his dream of becoming a songwriter and does nothing to pursue his passion for music.
Elena Carson, played by Angela Redman, an aging hippie, still wears bohemian clothes, has never really made compromises with the straight world, works at a menial job, and has very little to show for the intervening years.
They dance around each other, discuss their past relationship, which was “open” or so he thought, but it was all a façade, to fit in with their peer group. Of course the “openness” was an elephant in the living room, and caused major angst and unresolved conflict for both of them.
In the end, they spend the night drunk in the airport lounge, revealing a few secrets about their lives, which are not pretty, and in the second act, they start contemplating seeing each other again, but they both back out.
Both actors were extremely talented and handled the wit and humor of the play with panache. Unfortunately, the script itself was rather lame. True, it was witty and accurate about the specifics of 70’s student culture; however after about 10 minutes, it just got repetitive.
Also, we never got any specifics about the uniqueness of these two individuals. Were they really just two superficial stereotypes? Was the only problem they had living together that they pretended an open relationship was O.K. when it was just a myth they were living with? And the script says nothing about what unique dynamic brought them together? As a result, there wasn’t a huge amount of character development, so that when play became serious, it just seemed a predictable soap opera.
Another problem with this production was that the Reed, the male character was played by an Asian American, whose name was changed from a Caucasian to a Japanese name. There were a few references in the script that Reed never liked Elena’s spontaneity. Spoken by a Caucasian American, it has one meaning, spoken by a Japanese American, who had tried to live with an overly expressive Caucasin American, it has a completely different meaning. It implies that cultural differences may have been the source of their attraction for one another, as well as the wedge that drove them apart.
I kept waiting for this aspect of the play to be developed, but it wasn’t. Then again, nothing about the almost indefinable spark between the couple was ever developed, so I was not drawn into the conflict. E.J. Gong as Reed Watanbe, in many ways was perfectly cast for this play, he looked good in a suit, was spectacularly easy on the eyes, but unfortunately, the ethnic-blind casting only emphasized the weakness of the script. It was only later that I learned that the play had originally been written for a Caucasian. Frankly, fleshing out that a Japanese American tried to live with an overly-expressive Caucasian might have made a better story.
This play does contain a lot of laughs, the two actors are great comedians, the situation is funny, if most of us have not experienced it, we have all dreaded it. The evening was not completely un-enjoyable, just a little disappointing.
Shooting the Stars. In the Moment Theatre, Eclectic Theatre, 1214-10th Ave, Pike/Pine Corridor, Capitol Hill, Seattle. Thur-Sat 7:30, Sun Matinée 2pm. Thru May 15th. Tickets: www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2536590 ( Parking is non-existent)