Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Aperture

‘THE APERTURE’ doesn’t live up to its hype at CPT

Area theatres seem to be on a “let’s do plays by the same author” kick. Cleveland Public Theatre is now staging ‘THE APERTURE’ by Sean Christopher Lewis. Bang and Clatter recently staged Lewis’s ‘MILITANT LANGUAGE.’ A short time ago Nijnas staged ‘CRAVE’ by Sara Kane, who also was the author of Bang and Clatter’s ‘BLASTED.’ Both Lewis and Kane are from the list of contemporary writers. Both tend to use fragmented ideas and propose abstract messages. Though their topics are current, their missions aren’t always clear.

Sean Christopher Lewis’s ‘THE APERTURE’ was the winner of the inaugural Quest for Peace Playwriting Award. Lewis also has received the Rosa Parks Award for Social Justice in Playwriting from the Kennedy Center. Sounds impressive, right?

The script details the story of a boy who was a child soldier in his native Uganda. When he gets to the U.S., he is befriended by a female photographer who has him pose for pictures in the backwoods of Baltimore, Maryland, which imitate his warring past. When she begins to sell and advertise these photos as documentations from the real conflict, a clash regarding ethics and exploitation develops.

The script has had several staged readings, including a recent presentation at The Cleveland Public Library, which the playwright attended.

It would be nice to say that the CPT production lived up to its hype. Unfortunately, it didn’t. In spite of its intent to delve into the horrors of war and the effect on the child warrior, and the good intentions of the photographer to produce “art,” the acting out of each of the feelings and thoughts, just doesn’t work. As with ‘MILITANT LANGUAGE’ the writers lack of clarity of purpose led to audience frustration.

As a crisis counselor I am very aware of the fragmentation that takes place when an individual has a horrific experience. If the playwright had centered on that subject, and that subject alone, the play would have been focused. But also imposing the question of, “Can art provide a path away from our inherent violence without inflicting some amount of cruelty on its subject?,” just confused the focus.

Director Craig George has proven that he is an exceptional director. His 2006 production of ‘M4M’ at CPT, received the Times Theatre Tributes Best Production of the Year Award. But even George couldn’t save this show. A combination of abstract ideas which were poorly woven together, some technical decisions, and some questionable acting, sealed the production’s doom.

Young and handsome Isaiah Isaac, put in full-effort to create Okello John, the Ugandan boy solider. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the acting depth to consistently produce the needed pronunciation, while keeping the character intact. He was often hard to understand and many of the lines lacked meaning.

Heather Anderson Boll tried vainly to make Alex, the photographer, into a real and textured person. The words she was given to speak, and the fragmented and abstract nature of the idea development, got in her way.

The audience was greeted while entering the theatre by high pitched screeching music. The purpose for this cacophony of sound was unclear. Was it intended to give the idea that we were about to experience an atonal play? Only the unidentified sound director might be able to answer that question.

C. Wesley Crump’s’ photographs, as displayed in Tom Kondilas’s projections, generally worked well.

Capsule judgement: If you like your theatre abstract, than Sean Christopher Lewis may be your type of playwright. As for me, I like plays with a clear message, or at least a message that I can glean from a good discussion. ‘THE APERTURE’ didn’t fulfill those needs! The CPT production doesn’t help much either.