Monday, April 25, 2016

Weapons (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

First--the world premiere play by Chris Collins now playing at the Lounge on Theatre Row is Weapons.  The program describes it as the third in a trilogy about a family in San Francisco.  After watching this play, I want to see (or at least read) those other two plays.

Second--this fits into the genre of family tragedy very much in the vein of Eugene O'Neil.  I felt reminded in some ways of A Long Day's Journey Into Night as well as maybe Mourning Becomes Electra.  This is high praise.  Higher praise is how the cast all managed to avoid the trap of such plays, at least for actors who haven't quite mastered some levels of craft.  A temptation to simply "ride the emotion" of the action exists in these kinds of works, and must be avoided at all costs.

The cast of Weapons avoided that trap.  What we see in every moment on stage are people trying--often desperately--to achieve goals, goals they long for with all their souls, but half the time have no real idea how to achieve it.  Several don't even know precisely what they themselves desire.  In other words, we see not actors performing roles but human beings struggling with life.

We see us.

The family in question consists essentially of five persons.  Paul (Cris D'Annunzio) is a retired cop now running a bar in San Francisco.  His wife died of cancer roughly a year past.  His daughters are teenage Lara (Jodi Wofford) and adult, estranged Sarah (Paige Herschell).  Living with Paul and Lara at the family home is May (Madelynn Fattibene), Paul's girfriend, when his brother Bill (Matt Kirkwood) comes for a visit at Lara's request.

Add to the brew Ellen (Katie May Porter), an old flame of Paul's from high school who recently showed up at his bar.

It made for a very harrowing night of theatre, watching this family tear itself apart, poking at open wounds often with what seemed like the very best of intentions. Sarah literally wants nothing more than to redeem herself and her father.  From what?  That is what people keep demanding of her.  Just as Paul clearly feels utterly lost, sans wife and job and one of his children--who then shows up to start making incoherent demands. Poor Lara tries to somehow keep things together while still dealing with such a tender merciless event as First Love.  Bill, at a crossroads in his acting career (he's really too old to be a leading man anymore) visits and dives into a what is clearly a sea of emotional poison--all the more deadly because he loves everyone else drowning there.

A dear friend asked me point blank what this play is about, and to my surprise a relatively straightforward answer came to mind.   This play is about a family that have never learned to forgive themselves.  Sounds simple does it not?  But like all genuine emotional states, it rarely end up that way.  Paul, Lara and Sarah in particular seem able (sometimes barely) to forgive others, but lash out in rage and self defense out of a stubborn refusal to let go and do the same for themselves.  Doing that would mean surrender.  Giving up what little power they might yet retain over their lives--losing the thorned crown of responsibility, i.e. guilt.

More, I must say the show's direction by Kiff Scholl helped achieve some real power, and the design--set by Pete Hickok, lights by Donny Jackson, sound by David B. Marling and costumes by Wendell C. Carmichael--helped enormously by creating a visceral sense of place.  San Francisco is my home town, and there is something wildly attractive in its chilly gloom, just as it remains a place of emotional isolation.  This play might take place somewhere else I suppose--Staten Island maybe, or from what some people have told me Montreal.

But if feels utterly right for San Francisco, and I felt the presence of that city from the moment I looked at the set.

Highly recommended for very good performances that get at the heart of tragedy without wallowing in the sentimental or superficial.  This is the real thing. 

Weapons plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 7pm until May 8, 2016 at the Lounge Theatre 6201 Santa Monica Blvd. (one block east of Vine).

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