Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Each Day Dies With Sleep (convergence-continuum)

The question at convergence-continuum: What's this all about?

As the patrons filed into the lobby during the intermission at convergence-continuum Theatre’s production of Jose Rivera’s ‘EACH DAY DIES WITH SLEEP’ a male voice boomed out, “Does anyone know what this is all about?” A woman said, “Beats me.” Another said, “It’s about I, I, I, want, want, want.” Most people just shook their heads. A group of four, who were contemplating leaving, were stopped by one of their number who said, “The actors are working hard, we owe it to them to go back in.”

Rivera, the play’s author, was born in Puerto Rico . He recounts that when he was a boy, he loved to sit on his mother's knee and listen to stories of his Puerto Rican ancestors. There were chronicles of inflamed passions and family betrayals, of lovers crossed and disasters scarcely averted. He once said, "The stories were just outrageous. There were elements of the fantastical, of the dream, and these things become interchangeable."

This lack of a divide between the real world and the realm of dreams and nightmares, fantasy and folklore are at the heart of his plays. Its been called “mad realism."

‘EACH DAY DIES WITH SLEEP’ was written in 1990...its subject is supposedly the primitive human struggle between animal instincts and civilized order. A London reviewer capsulized the play by stating, “its conception of the human condition as a psychic battleground--lively, funny, erotic, tragic--has a rare force." That may well be, but judging by the audience who saw the convergence-continuum production, the intent and purpose of the playwright was not clear.

The production is generally well performed. Lara Mielcarek is outstanding as Nelly, the psychologically deprived daughter. She matures from animal to a productive woman before our eyes. Hers is a focused portrayal, but the script doesn’t tell us how she develops the abilities to mature in the way she does. Does just getting away from her monster of a father bring miraculous healing? In the world of fantasy, maybe, but psychologist would say, “no.”

As the role requires, Geoff Hoffman is attractive, and but he fails to give texture to Johnny, Nelly’s ego-centered husband. At times his lines are flat and sometimes his motivations are unclear. This could have been the fault of the script which rarely gives him the motivations for the build-up needed.

Clyde Simon is properly offensive as the father. But, again, the impetus for his character’s actions are not clear. Why is he the person he is? He says to his daughter, “There is no escaping my house. It is always with you.” He is right, but why was the house the way it was? The author gives us no real clues. Animal instincts? Really?

Director Joshua Spencer frustrates at least part of the audience by placing the father’s wheel chair in the corner of the L-shaped stage. This placement blocks the view of at least one-third of the viewers from seeing the action. He also needed to temper the sound effects which often drowned out the dialogue.

There are a group of theatre-goers who like to attend mind-bending theatrical productions. Though a trend in the late 60s and 70s, that audience segment has waned. If their play selections to date are any indication, Clyde Simon, convergence continuum’s Artistic Director and Brian Breth, its Executive Director, have decided to appeal to that audience. Theirs is a brave task. They are providing the type of theatre for that fringe group, but they must realize that plays like ‘EACH DAY DIES WITH SLEEP’ may not get the positive word of mouth needed to financially sustain their venue. Should they do the likes of Neil Simon. Absolutely not, but there are plays that will appeal to a broader audience and still advance the art form.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Rivera may be a word master, but he has created in ‘EACH DAY DIES WITH SLEEP’ characters we care little about. He enfolds them in a story with no focus. His words lack clarity and focus. Therefore, we care little about the play.