Sunday, May 18, 2008

Mission, not quite accomplished

Glendale, May 18--
WE SEEM TO HAVE STRUCK A PATTERN: a good play, a problem, a good one, another problem. Today it was an earnest political play, The Mission (Accomplished, adapted by Charles Duncombe from Heiner Müller's 1979The Mission. Müller (1929-1995) was an East German playwright clearly in the Brecht succession; The Mission (Der Auftrag) is a play about the failed insurrection the French Revolutionaries stirred up in Jamaica in 1794; Duncombe is a co-director of the City Garage company in Santa Monica, and his adaptation consisted of framing devices alluding to our Iraq invasion and Abu Ghraib.

The production kept reminding me of The Living Theater's political productions of the 1960s. I suppose it's nice that the flame still burns, that there are those in the theater world who respect the enterprise, passion, and commitment of Judith Malina and Julian Beck, and that theater as political propaganda can still work. But the fact is, there were only fifteen or eighteen of us in the audience; full frontal nudity has lost its politically expressive force, and we've all been lectured at repeatedly and are ready for more reasoned exposition.

Nor did it help that the three ladies (like the Three Ladies of all those operas) were treated more as set-pieces than characters, or that they broke into barefoot heartbeat flamenco to underline a point; or that passages meant to be tender and intimate seemed more like illustrations in a 1970s improve-your-marital-life handbook.

There were some fine portrayals by male actors, notably Troy Dunn as Dubuisson, Dave Mack as Sasportas, and Bo Roberts as Galludec: but Frederique Michel's direction didn't allow them to develop their characters or modulate their lines. Too bad; Müller's verse, in this uncredited translation, sounded as if it might have been affecting.

I'm glad I saw the production, I think. But I wouldn't want to see it again.

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