Saturday, March 21, 2009
'AUTOBAHN' an interesting trip at CWRU MFA
Neil LaBute, the author of ‘AUTOBAHN,’ which is now being staged by Case Western Reserve’s MFA Acting Program, is a wordsmith. He once said, "I can sit and watch two people talk forever as long as the talk is good," Talking good, in this case, is talking about what words mean and how people do and do not understand them.
LaBute, a minimalist, tends to use few physical settings in order to concentrate all of the attention on the actors and what they are saying. ‘AUTOBAHN’ is a perfect case in point. The author places the short play cycle, in which the seven segments are unrelated, in the front seat of a car, while each of the scenes centers on the pondering of a word or a few words and their usage.
The format allows us a voyeuristic peek into the intimate lives of those who are under LaBute’s boring drill. He probes deeply, as is his style, to try and discover relationships and life.
"Funny," shows a mother bringing her troubled daughter back from yet another rehab facility. The mother does not speak throughout the scene, but her facial expressions nonverbally give a vivid picture of frustration and defeat. The key word in this piece is “relapse."
“Long Division," is a humorous and pathetic look at a male friend trying to console his buddy after a break-up.
"Merge" finds us eavesdropping on a woman supposedly telling her husband of a “true” but bizarre incident that happened to her while she was out-of-town at a convention and woke up “feeling sore down there.” Did the incident really happened as related?
“All Apologies” delves into relationships by using the humor of “inappropriate” words to show emotions and how the lack of an expansive vocabulary can thwart effective communication.
With all the media attention given to improper relationships between teachers and students, “Road Trip” hits many raw nerves and is the most upsetting of the selections. It is an intense look into the manipulative mind of a psycho driver's education teacher, who entices one of his young female students to go to his family’s cabin in a secluded site.
"Bench Seat," exposes us to a fragile woman who has been “dumped” by her previous boyfriend and finds herself at the same lover’s lane where the rejection took place. Her present relationship seems heading in the same direction, and her paranoia is evident as the duo wavers between making out and serious and potentially dangerous talk.
The final scene is "Autobahn," which shows a couple driving home from returning their foster child to the adoption agency because of the boy's bad behavior. The boy has accused the foster father of sexual abuse. The woman babbles on trying to justify their actions. Her husband speaks not a sound. The key word in this playlet is “Autobahn,” the German road where each person is in his/her own bubble, setting the rules of road, and allowing themselves to be sheltered from life in their own way. As the mother says, people in cars are "too quick to stop, too fast to care."
The production, under the adept directing of Alan Rosenberg, is good theatre. Though some of the pieces are a little too long, especially ‘Bench Seat” and “Autobahn,” the over-all experience is positive.
Highlight performances are put in by Tom White and Leigh Williams. White is the man in “All Apologies” who manically babbles on trying to find a way to apologize with a limited arsenal in his vocabulary. Williams, as the foster mother in ‘AUTOBAHN’ who refuses to face reality, is appropriately paethic. After using excessive words to prove their points, they both go on to prove that silence is a powerful stage tool. Williams as the silent mother in “Funny” and White as the emotionally destroyed foster father in “Autobahn,” display tortured blank faces that are palates of meaning.
CAPSULE JUDGMENT: ‘AUTOBAHN’ is an engrossing evening of theatre, given a fine production by the CWRU MFA Acting Program cast. (Side though: Can’t the institution come up with a more user-friendly name for the program?)