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  WINDY CITY TIMES

THEATER Cuttings
by MARY SHEN BARNIDGE
2003-10-15

This article shared 2896 times since Wed Oct 15, 2003
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Playwright: David Rush

At: Stage Left Theatre, 3408 N. Sheffield

Phone: (773) 883-8830; $18-$22

Runs through: Nov. 15

Have you heard the one about the pedophile with the Heart Of Gold? Of course you have. Old men (and women, too) enamored of Innocence as an abstract concept—and of preadolescent pulchritude as its material manifestation—invariably proclaim benevolent intentions, masking selfish impulses in lofty speeches designed to represent themselves as nurturers bent on 'protecting' guileless children from corrupting influences and instructing them in the virtues of unrepressed affection.

Former psychiatrist Paul Benning is another such Pygmalion. After taking in a fresh-off-the-bus teenage runaway, he proceeds to seduce the naive lad, not with sexual overtures, but with a romantic yarn of seeking redemption for his sins through debasement of the flesh—that is, slashing himself with razor blades, a ritual punishment he asks the horrified but nevertheless intrigued Gregory to inflict upon him. Upon meeting the latter's eccentric mother, however, the crafty chicken-hawk sees an opportunity to manipulate both to his own advantage.

Cuttings could have emerged a deliciously twisted comedy in the style of Robert Bloch, Joe Orton and Dennis Potter. If Tartuffe's chicanery capitalized on his society's superficial understanding of religion, Benning's deception relies on our own Shrink-as-Savior stereotype, his talent for casuistic extemporization rivaling that of television's mind-scrambling Detective Goren (ref. Law And Order: Criminal Intent). But director Jesse D. Hill inexplicably insists on treating David Rush's play as straightforward sociodrama, even to decorating the lobby with clinical data on the aberrant behavior practiced by its personnel.

Chameleonic actor Ron Wells is capable of forging personality from the sketchiest of descriptions, his confident presence endowing Benning with a Svengali-esque allure that fascinates us with snakelike intensity (but does not diminish our glee when his sly scheme backfires on him). And since Gregory and his mom are characterized chiefly by their gullibility, Geoff Rice needs only to project adolescent giddiness, and Wendye Clarendon, cheerful denial. Robert G. Smith's sandstone-textured set and Edward Reardon's delicate incidental music are pleasantly evocative and nicely executed. But ultimately, Hill's humorless approach to her text renders the play's exquisitely ironic punch-line merely puzzling.

The Sound of a Voice

Created by: Philip Glass, composer, and David Henry Hwang, librettist

At: Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis

Phone: (773) 753-4472; $26-$50

Runs through: Nov. 2

BY RICK REED

The collaboration between east (librettist David Henry Hwang, he of M. Butterfly fame) and west (minimalist composer Philip Glass) is magical and enchanting. The two giants of operatic and musical theater complement each other, bringing out the very best in the staging of the new, and powerful, opera The Sound of a Voice.

Drawn from Japanese ghost stories, The Sound of Voice (sparingly directed by Robert Woodruff, with musical direction and conducting by Alan Johnson) is a spellbinding meditation on the highs and lows of human connection. The first act, The Sound of a Voice, is the tale of a lonely woman (mezzo-soprano Suzan Hanson), rumored to be a witch and her relationship with a warrior (Herbert Perry). The two engage in a strange dance, charting the course of love between a man and a woman. Suspicion and mistrust make their ultimate connection difficult (she believes he, like so many others in her past, has come to execute the 'witch' and thus make a name for himself; he is uncertain about his own motivations and the unexpected feelings the woman inspires). Hwang crafts dialogue that borders on the mundane, but which has a rich subtext, showing the growing affection the two have for one another, and the impediments of fear that cause them to hold back. It's beautiful work, gripping and true. Glass's music, so often the province of repetitive arpeggios, is forced to speak in a new musical language, defined by the depth of Eastern spiritualism. His music takes on new dimension here, especially because it's outfitted in a different set of clothes than what Glass has become known for: eastern instruments make up a large part of the orchestra and Glass fits his style to mesh with the bamboo flute (Susan Gall), eerie percussion (Tina Keitel) and the elegant stringed pipa (masterfully played by Min Xiao-Fen).

The Sound of a Voice (the title refers to how important such a thing can be to quell human loneliness … the woman says, 'It's the easiest thing to find, and the hardest to hold onto.') is rich in emotional resonance, and flawless in its execution. Witness the silence of the audience in anticipating each step in Hwang's construction … this is powerful theater at its finest.

The second act, Hotel of Dreams, brings us into the realm of a strange brothel that traffics in providing succor in the form of sleep (and perhaps death) to aged men. Again we have a man and a woman playing out the intriguing story. Again form and function marry in a poetic, telling way. The performances here are equally as good as in the first act (the woman is played by Janice Felty and the man by Herbert Perry's brother, Eugene).

Director Woodruff has kept his set lean (set design is by Robert Israel), with an almost bare stage dominated by a large, translucent box set at an angle. The box can be illuminated from within to reveal its interior. The remaining creative touches (supplied by Kasia Walicka Maimone, costumes, Beverly Emmons, lighting, and David Remedios, sound) contribute strongly to evoke the spare and lyrical storytelling.

The Sound of a Voice, as a whole, is a sumptuous experience, raw in emotion, and polished in execution. It's a must-see.


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