Monday, April 29, 2013

Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me – by Frank McGuinness

L - R Lloyd Pedersen, Bert Emmett - Photo Sherry Netherland

By Joe Straw

Someone acted as though this was a  - men in bondage - movie.  One patron, in particular, brought in candy with noisy wrappers.  She ate one bag, folded it, reached into her purse and started in on another. Then she twisted the cap off her beverage releasing a deafening fizz that filled the entire theatre.  

For some people, watching starving, malodorous captive men is a spectator sport.

And here I was, caught behind her, shackled in my own personal private prison. I had to find a way out.  And did.  - Narrator

He sat there, shirtless, an analogous representation of the hooded figures at Abu Ghraib, manacled with his leg chained to the floor.  A black cloth covers his head, and his hands are tied behind his back. He sits quietly, not making a sound, only moving slightly to make himself feel marginally comfortable. Odd, but he doesn’t struggle; he is resigned to his fate, he is there to stay and all the wishing about going home seems, misguided.

The Group Rep presents Someone Who’ll Watch over me by Frank McGuinness and directed by Gregg T. Daniel. “Someone…”—set in Beirut, Lebanon—is a marvelous production with very interesting characters laboring through their own private inferno.

When the play opens, Adam’s (Evan L. Smith) eyes were naturally heavy and the right side of his head was bruised as though he had been hit repeatedly with a blunt instrument.  He shares the cell with Edward (Bert Emmett), a burly Irishman, with whom he has no connection other than the simple fact:  they share a noisy cell together somewhere in Lebanon.  

The stark cell, a sand colored cramped room, and marvelous set designed by Gary Lee Reed, is a testament to overcrowding cells, a room fit for one now holds two, with just enough space for a Koran and a Bible.  

Through intercourse, in tightly confined quarters, we discover Adam, an American, is a doctor, possibly a psychologist, and Michael is a journalist with a fondness for beer and the horses. But after two months, Adam and Edward’s interaction have exhausted civility.  And in the service of passing time, Adams declares his fondness for masturbation, while Edward speaks of his moral nihilism. 

But in all due seriousness, they work not to be broken, and there is one thing they can agree on.  

“Will we get out alive? (pause)  I do get scared. I miss my home.”  – Adam

“That’s all I wanted to hear.” – Edward

“I’ve said it.  All Right?” – Adam

With just enough space to cohabitate, another prisoner Michael (Lloyd Pedersen) is thrown into the room.  A bandage is wrapped around his head, as he lies there unconscious.

Michael mumbles unobtrusively as he recovers his senses. They discover Michael is an Englishman with a fondness for making pear flan. And this, we later learn, has gotten Michael into trouble. 

The aleatory details of their incarceration are a mystery to us, possibly for doing something they were not to do in a foreign country.  In any case, for the characters, it seems like a distant perspective for which one of them will pay a big price.  

But, although he has been in there a short while, Michael has had enough and he screams for captors to release him.    

“That’s enough… Don’t ever do that in here.  I’m warning you.” – Adam

Adam, weary of the months he has already spent there, notes the jailers are listening via a speaker and it is better to laugh.

With introduction made, social graces set aside, and occupations presented, there comes a moment that defines a character, such as his unwillingness to answer a simple question.

“Who was coming to dinner?” – Edward

“I was making a pear flan.” – Michael

Michael execrates Edward’s constant references to his sexuality especially when they playfully write verbal letters to home.

“Oh, go ahead, Edward.  Start straightaway.” – Michael

“Start what?” – Edward

“Attack me for writing to my mother.  Pansy little Englishman… (to Adam) Look at him sitting there smirking.” – Michael

“I did not open my mouth.” - Edward

Michael is a tad sensitive to his sexuality. It is possibly the reason that he is in this cell (room). Caught in an obdurate moment, he defends his manly position, with his captors listening, for all to hear, and for all hours of the day and night.

And as Adam grows weary of his incarceration, his journey leads him deeper and deeper into despair as though he knows something, something he is not sharing, a secret he will not divulge.

“What are we going to do?” – Adam

“Be men.” – Edward

“And do what?” – Adam

“Face up to your fate.” – Edward

“And then what?” – Adam

“Defy it.  Defy them.  Fight them.  Never show pain in front of them.” - Edward

Such are lives of incarcerated men whose only obvious task are those of moral reflection as they pass the time of day with abiding memories awaiting an uncertain fate.  

I thoroughly enjoyed Frank McGuinness' play.  There is enough here to keeps one’s mind occupied and a lot to be said of the “silence” that is placed in the significant moments of the play.  Similar to what Harold Pinter does with his “pauses”.  These are the poignant moments that change the course of their relationship throughout the play. McGuinness never really says why they are there but he gives a lot of clues. For each character the “Someone” is obviously the other two characters, and each game they play must be view as a way of getting out.

Gregg T. Daniel has his own personal point of view in his direction.  I like Daniel’s work and I thought this was an exceptional production.  But the “silences” that move the relationships were not in the right places. But in other  places that were totally unexpected.  Not bad, just unexpected. For example, there were snapshots at the end of the scene that projected fascinating things, possibly guards coming for the men, froze the men but didn’t propel them into the following scene.  And although we never really see the “Arab guards” we really have to know they are there, right outside the door, inches away from the speakers. I also think the characters need to find a way to get home, whether they get there or not is a moot point. This adds one little truth to this production. (What is the objective of all prisoners?  To get out.) Also, I think we need to see fear.  The ending is not emotional enough even for three strong hearted men. The version of the play I read had Adam reading the Koran and I didn’t see that in this production.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe this production was a different version of the same play. Aside from those various observations there were also remarkable moments in this production.

L - R Lloyd Pedersen, Evan L. Smith, Bert Emmett - Photo Sherry Netherland

Evan L. Smith plays Adam.  We never really find out why this character is treated differently. We only know that Adam, the American, feels like he has to be strong and face up to all challenges.  Adam is given the choice between the Bible and the Koran and for the purpose of this production he makes the wrong choice. Smith also makes a choice of being sick near the end, sort of deliriously sick, which doesn’t take him anywhere. And there was a point I was asking myself where is he going?  Still, Smith, does a nice job, has a nice voice, but needs work singing “Someone To Watch Over Me.”  The song “Amazing Grace” should be sung with strong convictions to hammer home his point and it should be directed to his captors.  

Lloyd Pedersen does an admirable job with Michael, the Englishman. We know why he is captive; there are a lot of obvious hints.  I will say this; he has to find something else to do besides folding clothing ad nauseam.  Still Pedersen give a lot of marvelous life to his character.  

Bert Emmett plays Edward and is splendid in the role. He seems to be the comic foil but there are a lot of serious moments as well.  Not sure why his ending ends the way it does.  Was it his nationality or just luck of the Irish?  Emmett is funny and clever and always finds a way. I believe his relationship with his ending counterpart should be stronger.  It will only make the ending that much better.

Laura Coker did an exceptional job as the Producer for the Group Rep.

Other members of this fantastic crew are as follows:

Assistant Director:  Jennifer Ross
Stage Manager:  Emily Doyle
Set Design:  Gary Lee Reed
Lighting Design: Kim Smith
Costume Design:  Elizabeth Nankin
Sound Design:  Steve Shaw
Props:  Laura Coker & Emily Doyle
Music Supervisor:  Paul Cady
Dialect Coach:  Andrea Odinov Fuller
Public Relations:  Nora Feldman
Graphic Design:  Doug Haverty/Art & Soul Design

Run and bring someone who has a non-lethal recipe for pear flan.

Talkbacks:  After Sunday matinee May 19th
Admission: $22.  Seniors/Students: $17.  Groups 10+:  $15
Ladies Night Fridays:  Ladies 1/2 off 
Buy tickets/information or (818) 763-5990.

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