Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Somewhere in the MIddle (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

I've only seen one other show by the Crown City Theatre in NoHo, i.e. Nosferatu at this year's Fringe.  I quite like that!  Was thrilled to get an invite to see something else by them!

But now here's a quandry.  There remains a great deal to like about this production.  Here I can mention the sound design, the set, the costumes, etc. which were all very good, very realistic and frankly sometimes done with a very nice elan.  Comes across as damning with faint praise, though.  Somewhere in the Middle (or...Guess Who's Coming for Passover) deserves more!  For one thing--and here is no small matter--the actors showed considerable talent and stage presence throughout.  Nobody shone above the others, which means no one shrank in believability.  More, everyone involved brought their characters to genuine life, made me care sooner or later, certainly came across as very nice folks whom I would enjoy as neighbors.

That doesn't make for good theatre, though.

The script has a lot going for it.  I don't really care for polemics, which this is, but at least this one doesn't try and tell everyone how to solve the Middle East in one evening of chit chat!  No one pretends to be that wise!  Good!  At heart it has an overt message that feels utterly correct--not a solution to Isreal's policies but a wise recipe for finding some kind of solutions.  Simple, but true.  Listen to one another.  Talk.  Scream if you must.  But most of all, listen.

Okay, bravo a thousand times for that!  Really.  Cannot say that enough.

The play deals with a nice mixed family in the Midwest, just in time for Passover 2007.  Wisely (or foolishly, not quite sure which) author/director Gary Lamb (nice man, met and chatted with him) avoided the bitterness of the last year or so.  Lauren (Saige Spinney) is wed to David (Richard Van Slyke) and because he married outside the faith some Jews don't regard their children as Jewish.  Their teenage son Adam (Adam Simon Krist) comes across as something of a slacker, eclipsed by the brilliant older sister Sarah (Julie Lanctot) who's away at Stanford University but is expected back any time now.  Roz (Cynthia Kania) is David's mom, still dealing with her widowhood.

When Sarah does show up, she's donned a full Muslim chador, saying nothing at first to see how each of them react.  A school project she says.  They aren't happy about the stunt, feeling more puzzled than anything else.  Okay, she admits, it isn't a project for a class.  She wanted them to get ready to meet her boyfriend who'll be here soon.  Jamal (Luke King).  Is he Muslim?  No, but he is black.  And they all feel genuinely puzzled she'd fear their reactions.

Jamal arrives, and they are much more put off by the fact he's nine years older than Sarah and a Graduate Assistant in one of her classes--in other words, technically he's one of her teachers.

Yet there's more.

Not until Act Two do we learn not only are Jamal and Sarah engaged, but that Jamal's mother is Palestinian.  Then the fur flies!

Okay, all well and good!  I like this!  A natural set of conflicts just waiting to get entangled without any final resolution but explored in such a way as to offer insight!  But...I have two complaints and they really do interfere with any appreciation of the show.  Both involve the script.  And you yourself may regard this as a matter of taste.  First seems like this play takes few risks.  I never feel this family and their love for each other was ever going to snap or break apart or even metaphorically bleed.  In other words, the stakes never seemed terribly high.  The absolute worst that might happen might have been a temporary rift between Sarah and her parents, which would heal within a couple of years at most.

Second, much of the meat of the play involved no subtext at all.  Chunks of dialogue were written "on the nose" with no underlying tensions hinted at, no deep issues at play, etc.  So we have some conversations, a little heated but nothing too dramatic, with folks more or less agreeing on basics while avoiding anything really nasty.

As a result, I felt like I've eavesdropped on some nice people talking about important things, coming to one very vivid and correct conclusion with which I agree, but who do so with little drama and never really exploring the bloody meat of the subject.

Somewhere in the Middle plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm through October 8, 2017 at the Crown City Theatre, 11031 Camarillo Street, North Hollywood CA 91602.

No comments: