Tuesday, November 01, 2005

States of Shock (convergence-continuum)

‘STATES OF SHOCK’ challenges audience at convergence-continuum

Stephen Gaghan, the writer and director of the film ‘SYRIANA’ recently stated, “I think it’s really important to go out of the theater wondering about its meaning. Everything isn’t explained in two hours. The world is a big, complex, inscrutable place. Why take a complex world and reduce it to simple truths? That’s kind of false.”

When reading Gaghan’s quote I thought of convergence-continuum, the little theatre in Tremont that strongly subscribes to the theory of abstraction. Artistic Director Clyde Simon and Executive Director Brian Breth seem to get special glee out of perplexing their audiences. Their latest production, Sam Shepard’s ‘STATES OF SHOCK’ is no exception.

‘STATES OF SHOCK’ opened in May of 1991 to mixed reviews. It was mainly perceived as a dash back to Shepard’s late 1960s style of experimentalistic and hallucinatory plays. Even the subtitle, “A Vaudeville Nightmare,” keys us into the non realistic nature of the script.

‘STATES OF SHOCK’ condemns both the American government's military invasion of Iraq in February of 1991 and, the compliant and complacent reaction of the American public to that invasion and to the manner in which it was mass-marketed by our leaders. With that theme, is it any wonder why convergence-continuum chose to stage the play today, when the public is again learning the lesson of compliancy and complacency and government manipulation regarding the present Iraq fiasco?

Set in a diner somewhere in time and space, the play is written as almost a dreamlike event. The writing device puts the cast into a shock-state which carries over to the audience who often don’t know if they are to react in horror or laughter to the goings on.

Another of Shepard’s constant themes, the confrontation between a father-figure and a disinherited son is present. In ‘STATES OF SHOCK’ the father, known only as the Colonel, is costumed in bits and pieces of historical uniforms, military decorations, and combat gear from various American wars. As described by Shepard historian David Rose, “He is an amalgam of the archetypal military man: a firm believer in the noble myths of war which men like himself have served to perpetuate. He regularly raises his glass in a toast to the enemy who has made the present war possible. ‘Without the enemy,’ the Colonel frequently proclaims, ‘we're nothing.’ His companion, Stubbs, is his son, a disabled veteran. Their confrontation, enacted before symbolic representatives of the American public, suggests a battle between those fathers who make war and those sons who must do battle.”

The public present for the conflict between Stubbs and the Colonel is a seemingly affluent couple dressed from head to foot in white. As Rose states, “They sit at a table waiting for a long overdue order of clam chowder. Detached and unaffected, they are white America, watching unmoved as father and son debate the terrible cost of war.” They are annoyed at their wait for the chowder, seemingly interested in, but not overly upset by, the horror that is unfolding just feet away from them, much like the complaisant American electorate.

The only other character in the play is an ineffectual waitress named Glory Bee. In the original production she was black, adding another texture to Shepard’s image--the negative treatment of minorities in the power games of an authoritarian society. This is lost in the convergence production with the role being portrayed by a white actress.

The cast is uniformly excellent. Wes Shofner (The Colonel) rants and raves and physically abuses with abandon. Geoffrey Hoffman is compelling as the physically and mentally crippled Stubbs. Lucy Bredeson-Smith as Glory Bee creates a character who is perfectly pathetic and comic. Steve Needham and Dawn Youngs due yeoman duty as the bland, non-involved couple.

Clyde Simon keeps the pacing on target. Eric Wahl’s visual media design greatly enhances the production.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: As is often the case at convergence-continuum ‘STATES OF SHOCK’ is not for everyone. A complete set of program notes would have helped the viewers navigate through Shepard’s poetic, dream-like anti-war father-son conflicted world. But, as is, this is a compelling piece of theatre.