Saturday, May 3, 2014

False Solution by Oren Safdie

Amanda Saunders and Daniel J. Travanti - Photo Cai Dixon

By Joe Straw

You’ve work your whole life for that one defining moment.  As you observe, you hold your head high knowing that you made this, that an idea you crafted is about to be realized, and you laugh as you take pride in the inconceivable imagination that created this marvelous piece of work.    

But in the back of your mind lies a disturbing and lingering thought, that somehow, you’ve missed, you didn’t make the statement you thought you were going to make. And the weight of your past mistakes come back to haunt you.  

Silently, after ideas fall hopelessly like smoldering embers, you pray to the creator, for a sign that an idea, or someone is going to walk through your door and give you what you’ve been searching for these months or years.

And, oddly enough, an inspiration on a pedestal appears.  A very good looking one who is capable and who launches every esoteric idea out to the winds in the hopes they are reachable. But is she the solution or a false solution?

False Solution written and directed by Oren Safdie starring Daniel J. Travanti and Amanda Saunders is now playing the Santa Monica Playhouse through May 11, 2014.

Daniel J. Travanti best know as the character Captain Frank Furillo in Hill Street Blues is on the boards again in this West Coast Premiere, live, in a very intimate setting, just minutes from where you live. 

A cool summer breeze wisps in and around the building of an architecture firm when Linda Johansson (Amanda Saunders) walks in and gives us a brief introduction into the life of an architect, how after architects die, their work lives on for many years, perhaps centuries.  Architects want to be remembered for the defining moments of their working life.  When a structure they have imagined soars to life and lifts the spirits of those who enter.

But Johansson takes a look at the model and, without word, is less than impressed.   She takes a couple of pieces on the table as though she were going to add something to it.  Her backside faces the entryway (an interesting and unusual choice) and waits for the master, Anton Seligman (Daniel J. Travanti), a renowned architect to enter.

She observes the jumbled mess of architraves, spandrels, volute spires, thrusts, and  studies the mock up that Seligman has on his desk of a new Holocaust Museum in Poland.

Walking carefully and slowly down the staircase is Anton Seligman, nicely dressed in a red kerchief, black shirt, brown belt, black pants, and brown shoes carrying a leather man bag on his left side.  All together he presents an impressive figure.  But fighting an unseen foe from an uncertain place and looking as though we has already toiled wearily this day, he takes very little notice of the intern, now standing and watching him.  The weight of the world and gravity is pulling him into his last production as he takes off his jacket and throws the bag under his working desk reliving him of some of his weighted burden.  

Johansson is youth personified. She wears a light brown sweater, a tight fitting white dress, and has brown and tan shoes.  Bubbling, she takes a moment to stare and absorb all that is he.  She is a stunning creature with long blond hair, nicely put together, and her attraction for him is for an entirely different purpose.

Getting down to business Seligman opens a book on a Holocaust museums, explains their structures, the use of light, how people use the building.  They stand so close to each other, a hair strand away, absorbing unfamiliar body heat before they take a moment to separate.

Seligman’s mental block is the model of the museum sitting on his desk and wants to know if Johansson has any ideas. He is inexorable in wanting information from his intern, including her background, for which she is not a willing participant.

“Harvard?”, he asks.   No, “Columbia on a full scholarship.” she beams.

“I wrote a paper on you this semester.” – Linda

So Linda knows all about this man, or at least she thinks she does.  And it takes her a few minutes before she is comfortable enough to convince him that what he is doing needs to be reconsidered, for the sake of the town and the Holocaust survivors. Her background knowledge suggests the town was complicit in their silence and Linda feels the building should reflect their silence.

And so Seligman contemplates the idea, as he contemplates the idea of having her at his side, on this night.  They work on another idea, one that will offer a solution to the town, to them, and to the ones who died, but in doing so both will pay a price.

Oren Safdie, trained as an architect, brings his intellectual awareness of that craft into the written word of the play. And while there were a number of excellent moments, this is the kind of material that would have benefited in having the writer and director not one in the same person.  Because, in reality, I believe there is more to this play than what I saw on this night, another layer, two or three, emotional, physical, and characters who explode with purpose and objective by a movement, a sound, a touch.  Still, the overall work was exceptional in its humanitarian passions. 

But, I have questions and sometimes I need to be hit over the head with the answers. 

My first question is:  Why is Linda there and who sent her?  She is an intern, a second-year graduate student at that, and she is going to change the mind of a world-renowned architect?  How?   Through her sagacious wit, or sententious rhetoric, or her what?  Okay, so I have a lot of questions.  And, that aside, through the course of the play, no one is really searching for the answers, mentally or physically.  There is a lot of verbal foreplay without the culmination of anything resembling an answer to the questions and I believe another eye on the actors would have gotten the play more mileage.

Amanda Saunders and Daniel J. Travanti - Photo Cai Dixon

Amanda Saunders plays the intern Linda Johansson and at first we get the shy, envious, schoolgirl crush on this mentor but that goes away quickly when the character turns beyond the second-year grad student into someone who is worldly and well beyond her years. Certainly there is a fine line, a place to pick your moments, to grow into that confident person who will stop at nothing to complete her objective.  She has a reason, which is to be discovered during the course of the play, but that reason should be evident from the moment she walks onto that stage.  It is the cause of her being, the reason she needs to be there, the thing that will not stop her. Saunders is a delightful actor and there is more to be gained by stepping back and understanding who you are, where you are going, and how you are going to get there.

Daniel J. Travanti does a fine job as Anto Seligman and it is always nice to see an actor come back to the stage and give it his all.  Taking chances and putting yourself out there for the sake of a new play is always a welcome opportunity in my book.  Travanti looks physically fit, someone who does yoga, and it fits with the character that is always staying fit and looking for new female opportunities despite the fact that he has a wife at home.  I did get the thread, the through line, of Seligman’s character.  We get the architect objectives, but why now and why this night?  What is the thing that completes his objective on this day?  That aside, and on the night I was there, Travanti seizes a moment at the end, an emotion deep within him that captures his exquisite brilliance on stage and that is something I’ll take with me for the rest of my days and is well worth the price of admission.

The show was nicely producer by Producer Jacqueline Bridgeman.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Assistant Director/Dramaturg – Shelagh McFadden
Costume Design – Kate Fry provides costumes for the actors who were immaculately dressed.
Set Design – Evelyn Ellias makes a wonderful use of the space.
Lighting Design – Rusty Gaidzik
Stage Manager – Cheryl Valice
Publicity – Philip Sokoloff

Run! And take someone who wants to discover the life of an architect. 

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