Sunday, August 11, 2002

Quills (convergence-continuum)

convergence-continuum, new professional theatre premiers with 'QUILLS'

It’s rough to build a new theatre, develop a company, set a clear agenda for what is going to be accomplished, and stage the first show. This is even more nerve-racking when you have your entire life savings invested in the adventure.

This is the case with Clyde Simon, the Artistic Director and Brian Breth, the Executive Director of convergence-continuum, Cleveland’s newest theatre company. The duo met while at Kent State. They went their separate ways for a while. Simon moved on to a New York theatre career. Breth acted in various local theatres while holding a day job. They finally came together and decided it was time to offer the North Coast a new view of theatre. They contend that their purpose is to present plays that none of the local theatres are doing. They will also run from Spring to Fall, which is a season when most other serious theatres take a break. The fact that their new facility, The Liminis, located in the Tremont area, is air-conditioned gives them the luxury of this unusual timing.

Simon and Breth created The Liminis theatre by purchasing a home that was built in 1860, renovated it into a personal living space, two smaller apartments, and a theatre that will seat 40 to 60, depending on the seating configuration.

As the duo states in the program notes for their first production,“We have long felt that theatre in Cleveland was the equivalent of comfort food. Familiar, bland, and safe. We longed for more challenging fare, theatre that forces us and our audiences out of our comfort zones--both by what is presented and how.” To preview their goals they selected the controversial 'QUILLS.' The show does yell “not traditional fare.”

As Doug Wright's Obie Award winning play warns, “You are about to embark on a gothic tale of virtue and vice, of comedy and terror, of love and shocking erotica, of brutal censorship and, ultimately, the uncrushable spirit of the human imagination.” It continues, “ Be forewarned. This is the imagined story of the final days of the Marquis De Sade, the writer, rebel and sensualist who explored the darkest, even criminal impulses of human passions and was proclaimed at once among the most devilish monsters and the freest spirits the world has known.”

The Marquis De Sade, from whose name sadism comes, was banished to the Charenton Asylum for the Insane by Napoleon in an attempt to quiet his “vile” writings and to "cure" him of his wicked desires. The play, as did the movie version which starred Geoffrey Rush, allows us to glance into the Sade's cell and experience how he was befriended by the progressive young asylum director Abbe Coulmier, a priest who believed in treating his patients humanely and providing means for creative expression. In this atmosphere, the Marquis found it easy to strike up a friendship with the comely young laundress Madeleine, who helps him to smuggle out his prolific writings. The play recounts how the writer’s pen was silenced through a series of hideous acts that rivaled those created by De Sade himself. On an intellectual level, it examines the conflicts between art and censorship, libido and inhibition, morality and brutality, passion and persecution.

Though sometimes hard to watch, this play is both seductive and thought-provoking. Potential audience members should be aware that full male nudity, what some would consider repugnant language, sexual narration and heinous physical acts are contained in the presentation.

Convergence-continuum’s production is uneven. Though it lists itself as a new professional, non-equity theatre, the acting levels were often not at a professional level. Simon, who has the looks of a character actor, built well into the role of the Marquis. The handsome, boyish-looking Breth was excellent as Abbe de Coulmier. Unfortunatley, much of the rest of the cast was not up to level of the leading actors. Supporting performers often lacked clear characterizations. The use of accents and overacting were distracting. Laughs were often the result of stressing titillation rather than meanings. The production was also very long with the audience being confused as to when each act ended.

There is an old saying in the auto business that one should be aware that as a new car comes on the market adjustments will need to be made. The same needs to be understood with new theatres. Be aware that convergence-continuum, Cleveland’s newest theatre model did present a thought-provoking play that many local theatres wouldn’t produce. The major performers were proficient. The new theatre space is intimate and well-suited for scripts that larger theatres can’t accommodate. Now we wait for adjustments to be made to correct the flaws.

Capsule judgement: Welcome convergence-continuum. May you have many years of success and quickly mature into a Cleveland landmark performance venue.