REVIEW: The Samaritan Syndrome (Brikenbrak Theatre)

Are you a victim, a savior or both?

 

claire-anthony

 
Brikenbrak Theatre presents
 
The Samaritan Syndrome
 
by Jeremy Menekseoglu
directed by Paul Cosca
at
Gorilla Tango Theatre, 1919 N. Milwaukee (map)
through May 25th  tickets: $12  |  more info

reviewed by Robin Sneed

Set in the chilling world of mental asylum turned brothel for customers with a penchant to save the women residing there, The Samaritan Syndrome takes us on a journey through the post feminist landscape of relationships between women with a  pathological need to be rescued and men who are desperate to be saviors.

Jeremy Menekseoglu’s tightly written play in one act, hits hard in its description of a cycle between women who have become so victimized their knights become victims in their attempt at salvage.. Heroic efforts are transformed into pathetic trudges towards the last remnants of traditional societal roles. The exchange of manipulation Rosenberg finds in both savior and saved, the script of this trapped dynamic, whose only outlet becomes violence, is dead on. This is an entropic world in which there is a flatness that barely covers killing rage.

Directed with an even and deeply caring hand by Paul Cosca, this is an ensemble piece deftly samaritansyndromeperformed by Anthony Stamilio, April Taylor, Brooke Elbrecht, Claire Kander, Nathan Randall, Sarah Grant, and Whitney LaMora.

Anthony Stamilio as Mr. Suit, carries the lead with force, playing a man searching for a woman he has lost, trying to redeem her, failing, and ultimately giving over to an outcome that is as shocking as it is inevitable.

Saint, portrayed by Brooke Elbrecht is the woman Mr Suit has been looking for. She sits waiting for her lost love in an almost Chekhovian longing that mirrors Mr. Suit’s long search for her. Elbrecht plays this role guilelessly as the woman with a bent for positive psychology. Her stark refusal to believe Mr. Suit’s summation of the man she loves as con man, becomes an inciting force, turning Saint into a woman who unravels Mr. Suit with his own expectations of their future relationship. With this, their fates are decided.

April Taylor gives a mature and steady performance as the Night Nurse of this asylum for those still trying to find meaning in a raging fantasy of knights and damsels. She subtlety creates a character arc in the personality split between her professional self and her own heroism toward women she cannot help. Her portrayal of a woman trapped in a role from which she is trying to break free is touched with nuance and depth. She is savior and victim, emerging only once in an attempt to save the despairing Mr. Suit from himself

Nathan Randall as Charming, gives a riveting performance as a man so deeply rooted within his cycle of abuse and salvation as to become evangelistic of the dynamic he is in. He is savior to the lost Grace, played energetically by Sarah Grant. She becomes the blithe purveyor of need as commodity. Grant delivers this complicated scenario with accuracy and humor, conveying complicity in the manipulation. She digs deeply to find the emotional cycle of abuse and release with her partner in this twisted space. The scenes between Grace and Charming reflect the core of this piece. The moments in which Charming confronts Mr. Suit, demanding he cry and show enough emotion to satisfy the requirement for savior, is a brilliant development, demonstrating the way in which the culture around these relationships is built.

Original music by David Rosenberg becomes part of the ensemble, bringing aural awareness to the dark quality of this theatre experience. This is the first piece from Paul Cosca’s Brikenbrak Theatre Project, and with this production of The Samaritan Syndrome, they have put themselves on the map as ones to watch.

 
 
Rating: ★★
 
 

samaritansyndrome

REVIEW: The Exonerated (La Costa Theatre)

Grueling In storytelling, “The Exonerated” lacks dramatic structure

exonerated

La Costa Theatre presents:

The Exonerated

 

by Jessica Blank and Erik Jenson
directed by Sonia Alexandria
Thru February 7th (ticket info)

review by Paige Listerud

The vibe created by La Costa Theatre’s The Exonerated feels downright 60s-radical–whether it be in the relaying of 6 true cases of wrongly accused men and women from the late 60s and early 70s, or the soft, plaintive guitar performance in the darkened theater space before the show begins. The language used by the wrongly accused/proven innocent reflects the Boomer generation and their perspective on violent, endemic racism and homophobia. Their voices, as performed by cast, ring authentically but that same period element distances the storytelling from the audience.

It relinquishes this play to being a thing of the past, even though it was only just produced in the first years of this century; even though the gross gaps in our justice system still haven’t been rectified.

lacosta But more than an old hippy feeling compounds the challenge of revitalizing these stories and making their pain immediate. Unfortunately, The Exonerated, which stirred some of New York’s biggest stars to perform in it, which was made into a movie with Aidan Quinn and Susan Sarandon, and was presented to Gov. George Ryan as he pondered a moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois, sorely lacks critical dramatic structure to make it an enduring work of theater.

Sonia Alexandria strives to keep the direction clean and simple; the minimalism of the barest of sets and strategically crafted lighting creates the right ascetic tone for the production. The effort to craft each story with the actors’ voices and bodies alone is the right move. The trouble is stories exposing some of the grossest injustices inherent in our legal system—stories which should raise hackles on the audience’s heads–get lost in a spliced-up jumble that contains no dramatic arc and raises no stakes. Impact gets lost just where one needs and wants and longs for impact.

Such a deep structural failing cannot be redeemed by the unaffected and earnest performances of a capable cast. That’s too bad, because some manage to achieve deeper resonance than just outrage at what has been done to them. Cliff Ingram’s Delbert Tibs and Theresa Ohanian’s earthy young hippy Sunny remain in the mind long after the lights come up.

For anyone who thinks law enforcement plays out just like the cop shows on TV, The Exonerated will act as an all-too–necessary antidote. For those long familiar with the arbitrary nature of our justice system and the tenuousness of everyday freedom, at the very best The Exonerated will come across as just another day in racist, classist, homophobic America.

Rating: ★★

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