Saturday, March 3, 2018

Requiem (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

The author of Requiem (one of three original plays now playing at Theatre68 in repertory along with three previously published ones) tries to do something admirable and interesting. He takes an act of random violence and seeks to dissect it, taking us back into events and characters that led up to the murders.

As I said, admirable.  Ultimately this play does not succeed, almost entirely from two reasons. First, at approximately an hour, it simply lacks enough time.  This more than anything gets in the way. Ultimately we don't have time to know, or much care, about these individuals. We get flashes of insight into their humanity now and then (most obviously  Lee, Moses and Emilio--played by Veniese Razo and Carlos J. Castillo) but the rest remain cyphers, given a sense of reality via a very talented cast who inform what proves at best only hints on the page. 

At least as disruptive are lectures given by the characters, all them with pretty much the same voice, which I presume is that of the author.  These speeches feel inserted into the characters' mouths rather than emerging from them as a natural part of the story.  More, each remains vague.  Most characters sooner or later use an evocative, almost poetic term, "The American Nightmare" but there's no real examination of what they mean by that.  I found myself hoping they would go into specifics and we'd receive an insight into their individual nightmares,

The combination leaves a lot of not only unanswered questions, but questions about which we don't care.  Jewel's (Becky Siocca) relationship with Jack (Peter Osterweil) baffles.  It even baffles the other characters.  Misty (Courtney Beaver) remarks on it, but her sudden shift in attitude remains as odd as her giving unsolicited advice to her boss(!).  All these could weave together into a very cohesive, even compelling whole, at least so it seemed. Likewise the clever psycho-out, using the audience's prejudices to suspect Thomas (Andrew Retland) as the shooter held great promise.  The ingredients are there, but the recipe needs some work.

I should also mention Devin Denman as Ben, another good actor frankly struggling in what feels like an early draft of a possibly really good, really compelling play.

Finally, I feel compelled to complain about how this--a stage play--felt as if it were being directed as a movie.  The script, for example, includes at least two flashbacks.  That is totally fine, because playing with time proves a valuable dramatic device in pretty much every medium.  However, both these flashbacks involve a complete change of set, a total of four times.  During those moments the action stops dead in its tracks.  I honestly wonder--why the set change?  What purpose did it serve? No set pieces were involved in either flashback, so why change what was there?  Why not leave the set unchanged, but radically alter the lighting and/or sound?  We the audience will get it.  I've seen it happen countless times on the live stage.  I've also seen this awkward way of staging a flashback as well on live stage--and it does not work.

Okay, rant over.  The cast were all good.  The playwright has talent and a very good idea, but this is an earlier draft of a really good play.

Requiem plays Fridays and Saturdays at 10pm until March 31, 2018 at Theatre68 5112 Lankershim Blvd (south of Magnolia), North Hollywood CA 91601.

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