Sunday, August 29, 2004

La Turista (convergence-continuum)

'LA TURISTA' makes a strange visit at convergence-continuum

One of the area’s newest theatres, convergence-continuum was founded with the idea of “going against the grain” and doing “in-your-face style theatre.” It’s not theatre for everyone, but within a brief three years they have carved for themselves a slice of local audience that is fascinated by the avant garde and the plays that other local theatres won’t produce.

Yearly, they produce a Sam Shepard play. Shepard is considered by many to be a leader of the avant-garde in contemporary American theatre. He has been called the Eugene O'Neill of the Seventies. Others, including myself, disagree. They feel that he is much too willfully opaque, that he toys with viewers' minds and is a tease when it comes to meaning. I feel that he has never emerged from the era of the 60s in which “happenings” and plays that left meaning to the imagination of the viewers was in vogue, with morals and messages not a requisite for good theatre.

Shepard mixes fantastic settings and raw personal revelation with free-flowing language based on musical rock riffs and jazz improvisations. If his plays sound as if they were written at high speed and never revised, that's because they are. He is not big on rewriting. As he tells aspiring playwrights, “Writing is a journey of self discovery, but a good play is not an elaborate device to point our attention elsewhere. It exists in the world like anything else and must be confronted in all its three dimensional, multi-sensual, undeniable reality.”

In his plays, Shepard's characters shout a lot, and fight each other quite often. He admits that his work is violent because it is about America. "It's a tangible presence, you feel it every where in America. There's no need to be frightened of it. I find I can use it as a vehicle for other feelings." His plays set out to confront the audience with a view of America as a broken, fragmented, unhappy society...

‘LA TURISTA,’ this season’s convergence-continuum play, is an early Shepard work. Written when he was 23, it was Shepard's first foray into the two-act form. It opened March 4, 1967.

A surreal tragicomic ‘LA TURISTA’ finds Salem and Kent in Mexico. They are suffering from both sunburn and the famous “la turista” an intestinal malady of Americans who venture south of the border. In the first act, a native boy, a witch doctor and his son enter into their world. Whether this is delirium or reality is left to the imagination of the viewer. The second act finds the two back in America, but still ill. This time a “doctor” and his son are the “curers.” As the play progresses it becomes more and more surreal, more and more abstract.

The convergence-continuum production, under the directorship of Clyde Simon, is inconsistent. It often appears like the actors are not sure where the play is going, where they fit in, like they are saying lines, lines that have no meaning.

Geoffrey Hoffman, as Kent, does a herculean job. The first act, in which he appears clothed only in his tighty-whities, is dragged and thrown around like a rag doll. Most of the second act finds him climbing the small theatre’s ceiling pipes and bouncing along platforms above the heads of the audience. It’s an exhausting performance. As Salem, Jovana Batkovic doesn’t ever quite develop a consistent character. Brin Metzendorf is not very believable as the boy. His Mexican pronunciation is poor and he fails to clearly define himself. Cliff Bailey works hard as the Witch doctor and later the doctor. Brian Breth and Arthur Grothe who portray the son and Sonny expend much energy, but with little effect.

Sam Shepard has said, "I guess I'm always hoping for one play that will end my need to write plays. Sort of the definitive piece, but it never happens. There's always disappointment, something missing, some level that hasn't been touched, and the more you write the more you struggle, even if you are riding a wave of inspiration. And if the piece does touch something, you always know you haven't got to the depths of certain emotional territory. So you go out and try another one." His ideas well define ‘LA TURISTA.’ This is not his “one play that will end my need to write plays.”

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘LA TURISTA’ is not a play for everyone. If you are a Sam Shepard fan you might like it. If not, you probably will leave the theatre message frustrated and unfulfilled.