The Script was against Us
One of the big problems with a lot of modern playwrighting is that it is influenced by screen-writing. As a result, plays are rendered into too many short scenes, taking place in vastly different interior and exterior spaces. The results are virtually un-stageable unless you have the resources of Disney on Broadway. WET’s new production The Things Are Against Us, was one of these scripts.
In 17 scenes, a few disconnected “stories” are told with great confusion. The show opens with Federico Garcia Lorca, the famous gay Spanish poet/playwright, and martyr of the Spanish Civil War introducing various characters. There seemed to be three narratives, which intersected in the last act.
One recounted Lorca’s 1929-1930 visit to New York, where his parents sent him ostensibly to learn English, but actually to shield themselves from the fallout from his relatively open homosexuality in Catholic Spain. There he has an affair with an Arab speaking man.
Another narrative involved the grandson of the Arab paramour, Yusef, who finds his grandfather’s journal, dons his old-fashioned suit and tries to re-trace his grandfather’s foot steps and ends up in a decaying Victorian country house.
The second narrative recounts the sexual adventures of two single women, sisters, Tessa, and Solange, who have jointly inherited the Victorian house. One lives an urban lifestyle in Manhattan, picks up men casually in a bar, once frequented by Lorca. The other, Tessa, is fixing up the country house in order to turn it into a bed and breakfast. Tessa is being sexually serviced by her contractor.
All the characters and the re-incarnation of Lorca end up at the country house as the disconnected narratives haphazardly turn into a thriller/mystery.
The strength of the production was in the acting. Bobbin Ramsey, the director, assembled a very able cast. Allison Standly as Tessa, the country-sister, played a sweet Tina Fey look-alike who turns into a nasty piece of work for some unknown reason and then played a semi-zombie to great effect. Caspar, Robert Bergin, her partner in simulated oral sex, played the New England equivalent of a “Norwegian bachelor farmer” with panache. As Solange, Samie Spring Detzer, milked every inch of humor in her lines and created what little comic relief there was, along with Jeffrey Azevedo as Yusef.
Jany Baccallao as Federico Garcia Lorca actually looked like Lorca and spoke Spanish with an impeccable Castillian accent; however when he spoke English he wasn’t that easy to understand and when he recited Lorca’s poetry it wasn’t very moving because it was translated and poetry, unlike prose, rarely has the same power in translation.
The weakness in the production was the script itself. After we left the theatre, my companion for the evening, who knows Spanish well and has studied Lorca, asked what the play was ABOUT. I could only speculate that it might have been about stories inspired by Lorca’s poems.
Lacking a coherent plot and character development, it never drew me in. In spite of the terrific acting and first-rate music it was just hard to follow. What happened on stage did not develop organically from the given circumstances, random things were just thrown in. Perhaps there was some unknown context which would have made the script understandable; however, a play has to stand on its own.
The set worked against the production. By itself, it was an excellent set for the scenes taking place in the garden of a crumbling Victorian house in rural Massachussettes; however, it was so very imposing that it created confusion about the location of scenes taking place in other places. For example, in one scene the script said something about being in Lebanon, I assumed that it referred to the name of a town in Massachusettes,, as there are towns named Lebanon in the U.S. It was not until I looked in the program that I realized that a scene taking place outside of a clapboard wooden house actually was supposed to be in the Middle East. The locations of other scenes also were confusion as a result of the set.
Unfortunately, sitting in the back row, I visually missed some of the excitement taking place on the floor. For example, during the simulated oral sex, I only saw the female reaction, but maybe that was a good thing.
There was a full house, most of the people stayed past the intermission, so some people must have enjoyed it. It had the requisite check list of “grit” for Capitol Hill fringe shows: supposedly shocking sex on stage, closeted oppressed homosexuality, time-travel, violence, loud-music, some shouting etc. I would like to say that I just was not in the right demographic to enjoy it, being in my 60’s but when a 25 year old millennial has the same reaction, then maybe it really was just the script. Everything else was well done.
The Things are Against Us Washington Ensemble Theatre ( WET) 12th Ave Arts, 1620-12th Ave, Capitol Hill Seattle, WA 98122 ( 12th at Pine-near the Cop Shop) Thurs-Mon 7:30 April 29-May 16th. Tickets. www.washingtonensemble.org Parking is difficult.