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This review by Jack Florek was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on June 14, 2000. All rights reserved.

Review: `Blinding Light’

E-mail: JackFlorek@princetoninfo.com

In the normal course of events, a new play goes through

a rigorous growing process before being unveiled as a world premiere.

Through a string of readings, re-readings, staged readings, and workshop

productions, the play gets poked and prodded, stretched and stunted.

Each line, word, and comma undergoes the sort of thorough examination

that would make the Food and Drug Administration envious. And of course

at each step of the process, the playwright writes and rewrites his

or her play. The goal being that on opening night of its world premiere

the play is, as close as can be imagined, perfect.

Passage Theater Company has decided to forgo most of that, and jump

right ahead to the premiere part with William Mastrosimone’s "Blinding

Light." One reason why these steps could be skipped is that "Blinding

Light" isn’t really a play at all. Strictly speaking, there isn’t

a single story in the entire evening. No beginning, middle, and ends,

no "Drama 101" bugaboos such as character development, conflict,

or climax.

What we have instead is a series of eight distinct vignettes, or as

the playwright himself calls them, "playlets." Each presents

an interesting character (or two) in a heightened emotional moment

in which part of their essential human vulnerability is revealed.

The only connection one playlet has with another is that they all

share a common theme: the human need for love, intimacy, and acceptance.

Of course, another reason "Blinding Light" could be brought

to production so quickly is that William Mastrosimone is a master

craftsman. After nearly 20 years of plays, screenplays, and mini-series

scripts under his belt, he knows how to turn a phrase. His play "Extremities,"

first produced at Rutgers, was made into a film starring Farrah Fawcett.

His recent play "Bang, Bang You’re Dead," focusing on the

hot button issue of school shootings, is an example of his thought

provoking, and media-inspired drama.

"Jelly," leading off the evening, features a young woman named

Claire (Jenny Eakes) who, in monologue form (or more accurately one

side of a dialogue), describes to her unseen boyfriend her frustrations

with "the pattern of her life." Claire seeks real intimacy

instead of the general run of "dinner-movie-sex," and threatens

to break with her irresponsive boyfriend. Feeling unhappy and neglected,

she tells him that even her best friend can see that she has her "toes

over the ledge." Yet Claire’s desperation betrays her and breaking

up is clearly not what she wants to do. Instead, she cajoles, threatens,

and rants, before turning to jelly when he invites her for a vacation

in the Bahamas.

"Romance In The Year Of The Plague" presents two upper-income

yuppie-types (Richard Topol and Maggie Lacey) looking for love via

the Internet. They each show up for their meeting packing pseudonyms

and tape recorders, before embarking on high stakes negotiations involving

the approximate height, weight, and brain power of potential children,

whether or not pets are to be involved, and who gets to sleep on the

left side of the matrimonial bed. Negotiations break down when the

man refuses to take a lie detector test.

"Ectomy" is next and is, in many ways, the most disappointing

of the eight, as well as being symptomatic of the format’s shortcomings.

Alisha (Scott Denny), formerly Al, returns home to attend her dad’s

funeral. Alisha is a transsexual and is glad the old man is dead,

but now seeks intimacy with mom, who is understandably surprised at

the sudden change in her son. This is another monologue that flip-flops

between humor and poignancy, and offers some downright interesting

medical information. (Did you know that the penis is stuffed in and

becomes a kind of sock turned inside out?)

The problem with "Ectomy" is in its basic structure. A brief

vignette just isn’t enough here. Alisha is a complicated person, with

many layers of self to muck through. No longer a man, nor in fact

a woman, living in a kind of limbo of sexual identity, Alisha certainly

deserves more than 10 minutes of slap-dash stage time. Her monologue

is hardly allowed to rise above cliche. She would be better served

on Ricki Lake’s show.

This snapshot format is the main difficulty with "Blinding

Light." Characters are introduced, their souls cracked open for

a quick peek, before being shoved aside for the next vignette. Rather

than becoming emotionally involved with these characters, the best

the audience can hope for is a sort of voyeuristic pleasure.

The same holds true for "Promise." yet it is the most disturbing,

and, at the same time, the highlight of the evening. Scott Denny,

playing Karl, delivers a terse monologue, describing his suicidal

wife’s battles against weight gain, specifically "Death by Chocolate"

ice cream. ("After two weeks on the treadmill, what’d she lose?

Fourteen days.") Promising her that he would keep her locked in

a shed for three days and away from the refrigerator, no matter what

she said or how much she screamed, Karl’s promise leads to regrettable

results. But here again, although the story idea is alive and potentially

rich in nuance, the format fails. Much goes unexplained, and the premise

of a man merely keeping his promise is weak.

The evening finale and title work, "Blinding Light," charts

a couple through an entire relationship, from meeting, to marriage,

to birth, to death. Repeatedly likening life to a hayride, and with

all the profundity of a Hallmark card, it is a candy-coated vignette

meant to pat the audience on the fanny and send them on their way.

Monologue is an intimate and powerful theatrical gesture because the

other character is you. Julie Boyd’s direction recognizes this, and

never gets in the way of the characters’ direct connection with the

audience.

The entire cast of four (Jenny Eakes, Richard Topol, Maggie Lacey,

and Scott Denny) holds up nicely under this intimate scrutiny, and

are often able to give us hints of the inner lives of these characters

rarely supported by the text.

The costume designs by Linda Ross, as well as Charles S. Reece’s lighting

and Daniel Levy’s sound, are appropriately low-key and unobtrusive.

The set (a table here, a candle there) is so Spartan that a designer

wasn’t needed.

Mastrosimone originally came in with 11 story ideas for this production,

which was then honed down to these eight brief playlets. As the show

itself lasts for a little over an hour, without an intermission, it

seems that there is room to expand the plays and flesh out these complex

characters.

Despite the tag of world premiere, "Blinding Light" is still

a work in progress. Rewrites are certainly on the way. Mastrosimone

is a wonderful writer, with an ear nicely attuned to the music of

words. Whether it is to become something special, or remain a kind

of sugar pill, will depend on those rewrites.

— Jack Florek

Blinding Light, Passage Theater Company, Mill Hill

Playhouse, Front and Montgomery streets, Trenton, 609-392-0766. $17.50

& $20. Through Sunday, June 25.


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