Review by Byrne Harrison
"Nothing gold can stay." - Robert Frost
Robert Frost's simple yet elegant eight line poem informs a great deal of Duncan Pflaster's Ore, or Or, presented as part of Theatre of the Small-Eyed Bear's Get S.O.M. festival. Like Frost's poem, Pflaster's play seems simpler than it is. On it's face, it's the story of a love triangle - boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy gets other girl, complications arise. Yet woven into this is a rumination on the nature of beauty and love, the longing for something that one never imagines getting, racial and sexual stereotypes, betrayal, and the price one pays for obsession. Finally, there is a frame on which the story is hung - the mystery of General Yamashita's lost gold. Yamashita, a Japanese general during WWII, is alleged to have looted stores of gold during the war and hidden it in a series of underground complexes in the Philippines. Treasure hunters have sought it ever since.
In Ore, or Or, Calvin Kanayama (E. Calvin Ahn), an art historian working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is trying to determine whether some gold statues found in the Philippines are part of Yamashita's fabled treasure. His obsession to solve the mystery leads him to have cryptic dreams in which Yamashita (Robert Torigoe) speaks to him. His messages seem to deal with the lost gold, but they are equally apt to the love triangle in which Calvin has become entangled.
After a St. Patrick's Day spent on the town, Calvin hooks up with Debbie (Elizabeth Erwin). They hit it off and begin dating. Through Sean (Shawn McLaughlin), Debbie's gay roommate and confidante, Calvin meets Tara (Clara Barton Green), a beautiful, blonde model - the sort of woman that Calvin has idealized for years, but never dared approach because of his insecurities about not being the kind of man that women like her would date.
When she admits an interest in him, Calvin begins a sexual relationship with her, justifying it by telling himself that he's not cheating on Debbie since they never really defined their relationship.
Despite jeopardizing his burgeoning friendship with Sean by letting him in on the secret, Calvin seems to have it all. But as the poem says, nothing gold can last, whether that gold is a relationship with a woman who could be a soulmate, or the gold of a fantasy come true. As everything crashes around him, Calvin is left to clean up the damage as best he can.
Even without the framing device of Yamashita's gold, Ore, or Or would be an excellent play. Pflaster has created complex and interesting characters, all with their own flaws and insecurities, and put them in a compelling story. Even as they hurt one another, intentionally or unintentionally, they remain remarkably human and sympathetic. While much of this is due to the excellent work done by all the actors in the play, Pflaster's ability to write complex and fully realized characters allows them to spend more time creating nuanced performances.
The addition of the dream sequences featuring Yamashita and a woman who at times seems to be his wife and at other times seems to serve as a chorus (Rachel Lin) allows Pflaster to comment on the action of the main story in a way that doesn't affect that action. Calvin interacts with Yamashita and the woman in the dreams, but doesn't make the connection between them and his real life, other than his quest to solve the mystery of the statues.
As mentioned before, the acting is outstanding in the production, with particular praise going to Erwin and Lin. Erwin does an excellent job with Debbie's tentative steps at opening herself up to love and with the crushing anger and pain at Calvin's betrayal. Lin is a chameleon, becoming whatever character is needed in a particular scene (Calvin's sister, a waitress, etc.), and excelling at each.
Elisha Schaefer's elegant Asian-inspired set and Jennifer Raskopf's costumes add depth to the outstanding production. Laura Moss's able direction makes this a production not to miss.
Ore, or Or
Written by Duncan Pflaster
Directed by Laura Moss
Stage Manager: Emily Gasser
Rehearsal SM: Julia LaVault
Dramaturg: Michelle Philippin
Movement Consultant: Sacha Iskra
Set Designer: Elisah Schaefer
Lighting Designer: Victoria Miller
Costume Designer: Jennifer Raskopf
Sound Designer: Jared M. Silver
Props Designer: Jesse Louis Hathaway
Associate Lighting Designer: Wilburn Bonnell
Sound Board Operator: Victoria Watson
Press Representative: Emily Owens PR
Industry Representative: Scotti Rhodes
Graphic Designer: Duncan Pflaster
Website Designer: Ashley Avis
Arts in Action Series Producer: Laura Moss
Associate Producers: Emily Simoness, Margie Kment
Production Manager: Norah Turnham
Producers: Alexander Koo, Arienne Pelletier, Duncan Pflaster, Michael Roderick, Jesse Edward Rosbrow
Featuring: E. Calvin Ahn (Calvin), Elizabeth Erwin (Debbie), Clara Barton Green (Tara), Rachel Lin (Geisha), Shawn McLaughlin (Sean), Robert Torigoe (Yamashita)
The Workshop Theatre
312 W. 36th Street
Closed May 30th