by Rob Kendt
critics, myself included, have been guilty of playing a politically correct
game of bait-and-switch: When a play comes along that actually offends us with
explicit violence or transgressive sexual material (or a combination of both),
we find every possible way to avoid saying so, lest we appear hopeless
philistines or prudes. Instead we point out its structural flaws, or we might
go so far as to call it tasteless or pointless. And if we can find something
wrong with the writer's attitude toward minorities, all the better.
when a writer as prodigiously gifted as Erik Ehn sets his mind to the subjects
of "eroticism and language"--the stated themes of the commission the
theatre company Bottom's Dream gave him some years ago, which engendered the
plays on this current program, as well as several others--it's not so easy to
point to flaws in the writing. Ehn has a fertile, febrile prose style and an
unforced sense of structure, an almost musical ebb and flow, that gives these
pieces what little theatricality they possess. When Bottom's Dream, along with
Seattle's Annex Theatre and Dallas' Undermain Theatre, staged some of this work
at Audrey Skirball-Kenis Theatre's Common Ground Festival in 1996, I found it
exhilarating: Ehn's writing persuasively penetrated sexual explicitness and
came out the other side with lyricism, wit, and genuine emotion.
so, after that performance, I spoke to an older woman who said she found the
material so harsh she wanted to cry. Now I know how she felt. Perhaps it is a
testament to the resilient power of mere words to move our emotions, but this
intermissionless production of three-plus one-acts--Icarus, Leda, Three Day Jesus, and Lingerie--filled me with the
kind of head-blazing, can't-look dread and disgust I felt the time I tried to
watch an open-heart surgery.
the difference? James Martin's drily detached direction doesn't help. It's one
thing to play these endlessly descriptive tales of sex between father and son,
woman and goose, Jesus and goat, etc., with real emotional conviction, as did
the Annex actors two years ago under Nikki Appino's direction, but to play them
with extravagant, winking irony, as Martin has most of his actors do here, is
to up the ante of confrontation--the element, already in the writing, of daring
us to be shocked. We are, thanks.
of the actors are strong, within this limiting style: Jennifer Griffin shows
the most range, Bonita Friedericy the most wit, Tom Sheppard the most fire,
Cheryl White the most aplomb, Michael Morrissey the best deadpan. Martin makes
a few attempts to theatricalize Ehn's prose--at one point employing bird-toy
props in a silly pseudo-ballet parody of Swan Lake (but, strangely, to the
overture of Der Rosenkavalier)--and he creates some striking images. But the
combination of his nose-tweaking tone and Ehn's heavy, operatically explicit
peroration makes this evening unbearable--for this philistine critic, anyway.
Curtsies," presented by Bottom's Dream at the Ivy Substation, 9070 Venice
Blvd., Culver City. Mar. 12-Apr. 11. (310) 231-0446.