Sunday, March 12, 2006

Review - Temple (Bridge Club Productions)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

Tim Aumiller’s vision of the future of America will be disturbing to nearly everyone. To those who are already feeling left behind as their country lurches to the right, his America will be as frightening as 1930s Berlin. To those who see America as on the right track and finally returning to the faith that made it great, his vision of an oppressed minority that fights back by targeting the very halls of power will fuel their fears of anarchy and terrorism.

Temple is set in Washington, DC in the near future, not long after the passage of the Samuel Laws which place draconian punishments on homosexuals and their families. Gays and lesbians lose their liberty, get listed on a sexual deviancy database, are forced into therapy, their parents are sterilized - all for their own good and the good of the country, of course. Not surprisingly, some people choose to fight back.

Temple takes place immediately after a coordinated attack on the Supreme Court by a group of gay militants, or atheist militants as they are called by the media - after all, to the religious extremists running the country, gays and atheists are pretty much the same thing.
Foul-mouthed Russ (Shannon Michael Wamser) is first to arrive at the militants’ hideout, followed by timid Walt (Tom Macy) and his mentally-challenged sister Brenda (Lesley Miller). Russ was part of the group that planted explosives in the Supreme Court building; Walt helped the group gain access. Both are former lovers of Jon, the leader of the cell.

They are eventually joined by Jon (David Rudd), his wounded lover Remy (Tom Baran), Suzanne (Audrey Amey) a militant lesbian driven to fight after her lover left her to return to a ‘normal’ life, and Kent (Joshua Seidner), a straight drug-addicted munitions expert. As they wait for rescue from higher-ups in the resistance, they fight, discuss ideology and worry that the call won’t come before the police do.

This was a decent production of a interesting piece of political theater. Will it be everyone’s cup of tea? Clearly not. In fact, the audience is likely to be very self-selecting, preaching to the choir as the play does. But it asks some important questions. Are we doing enough to make sure that this vision of America doesn’t come to pass? What would you do in the same situation? Can a post-9/11 audience empathize with a group of terrorists and if so, what does it say about our moral relativism? As is the problem with many plays that deal with weighty concepts, the characters frequently engage in philosophical debates that while interesting, don’t advance the story. At times, this makes the show feel a bit like a sermon, rather than a play. Fortunately, Aumiller tends to relegate it to certain characters.

The cast of Temple was generally good. Macy’s Walt was frightened, yet fiercely protective of his sister, conflicted about his involvement with the uprising, yet completely enthralled by the charismatic Jon. Macy was very believable playing these opposing aspects of Walt’s personality. Lesley Miller did a marvelous job as Brenda, who tended to view her world in terms of people she knew, or didn’t, and sayings that her mother taught her. Seidner’s turn as Kent was astounding, both in terms of the physical demands of playing a speed freak and of having to spew long strings of nonsensical dialogue. As Suzanne, Audrey Amey did a good job, but playing the most level-headed member of the group didn’t give her as many opportunities to take chances with her character.

The final three roles were a bit disappointing. Shannon Michael Wamser’s Russ was a one-note character. Russ is loud, angry and very physical, all of which Wamser did well, but there’s not much to the character beyond that. Tom Baran’s Remy is also under-developed, though it’s hard to be a well-rounded character when you spend much of the play unconscious with gut wound. Baran showed his talent during an entirely too authentic-looking death scene. It was very uncomfortable and very effective. Finally, there was Jon, the charismatic man who recruited this group of friends and former lovers. David Rudd certainly had the right look and voice for the role. He delivered his lines with a power and fervor of one who believes he is on a crusade. But there wasn’t an emotional connection between him and the other characters. Jon as played by Rudd would certainly make a powerful debater, but he would never be a man that others would risk so much for.

Director Greg Foro did a capable job of directing. Set designer Marc Janowitz did what he could with the severely limited space at Manhattan Theatre Source, and were this not such a kinetic show, the claustrophobic space would have worked remarkably well. As it was, the action threatened to spill over onto the laps of the front row. Being that close, and worrying about being unintentionally incorporated into the action, made it difficult to be completely absorbed into the play.

While this was an uneven production, Aumiller should be congratulated on his challenging play.

Written by Tim Aumiller
Directed by Greg Foro

Bridge Club Productions
Manhattan Theatre Source

Closed March 11, 2006