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America the Blind


In Small Tragedy, an amateurish acting company rehearses Oedipus Rex, and it gradually emerges that America is as blind as the self-blinded Oedipus, and its people as purblind as the self-deluded Jocasta. Playwright Craig Lucas is, presumably, the prophetic Teiresias (some of whose other aspects he may actually share). One of the actors is a dashing Bosnian Muslim, recent to this country, but who mispronounces Milosevic’s name, and whose American accent and idiomatic style are impeccable. Act One is merely annoying, what with simultaneous action on several stage areas, and fragmented bits of dialogue crisscrossing, interrupting, overlapping one another—sometimes deliberately inaudible, often from some hokey version of Oedipus. This makes it impossible to follow much of what goes on, which may be a blessing. In Act Two, the plot goes completely haywire in an attempt to prove the allegorical assumptions of Act One’s bitter reality, something Lucas has at best a feeble grip on. Lucas should have been bolder and cut out the occasional patches of lucidity, and let the whole thing become a big, buzzing inferno of inscrutability. It would appeal just as much to headtrippers, make-out couples, laughers at anything, and standing ovators for everything, and would allow the rest of us to escape after a few minutes.

Why does Charles l. Mee bother to write comedies such as Wintertime, for which he has no aptitude, when his serious plays are farcical enough? Since seeing it provides no clue to the meaning, I quote the publicist: “Jonathan loves Ariel, Ariel loves Jonathan, Jonathan’s mother loves Jonathan’s father except that his father also loves another man and his mother also loves a Frenchman who might also love Ariel.” The director, David Schweizer, has done as much opera as drama, and this finds him, appropriately, in the operatic mode: If operatic means heavy on arias and light on logic, Wintertime, where the living is uneasy and the prattle is prolix, is definitely operatic. The desperate actors are pushed into all kinds of excess, at which Michael Cerveris, as Frenchman, is rather too good, and Marsha Mason, as Mother, not good enough. Some preserve their sanity by staunchly ignoring what they are doing; others, like Ariel, actually try to act, without knowing how.


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