By Catherine Wagley
By Catherine Wagley
By Wendy Gilmartin
By Jennifer Swann
By Claire de Dobay Rifelj
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Catherine Wagley
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
Trying, however, makes no claim to be a political drama about the FDR administration, or Biddle’s place in it. The play isn’t so much about history as about how it’s remembered, which is an entirely different matter. It’s about random memories that Biddle jots into a notebook that may or may not one day make it into the Library of Congress, because our national memory is as frayed and incomplete as our personal recollections. Isherwood is correct about the unspoken bathos, possibly underscored by what was widely reported to be Fritz Weaver’s dour portrayal of Biddle in the New York production. At the Colony, however, the play’s sentimentality is largely offset by Mandell’s scrupulous Beckettian attention to arthritic physical details, like a tragic clown, and a superiority complex beautifully woven into brittle sarcasm.
Director Cameron Watson’s mostly astute direction suffers a bit of needless sugarcoating from Bach’s lugubrious cello sonatas and Schumann’s pretty piano “Kindersehnen” in a regrettably obvious way. Against this, however, Mozo’s performance stands tall for its self-respect and dignity in the hurricane of Biddle’s abuse.
Tryingis a poem, inscribed around a tempestuous, tender relationship between a young woman and an old man, about the distinctions between who we are and who we were. Such slippage is the tragedy of all people, and all nations. This idea, plus two magnificent performances, is more than enough to quell the play’s inclinations toward the generic emotions summoned by a funeral just because it’s a funeral.
Christopher Hampton wasn’t the only one to adapt Choderlos de Laclos’ 18th-century novel, Les Liaisons Dangereuses— written as a series of letters — into a play. The late German poet-playwright Heiner Müller composed a “text” named Quartet, which has been translated by Marc Von Henning in City Garage’s gorgeous production, directed by Frédérique Michel.
It’s very German. Where Tryingis largely punctuated by repartee, Quartetconsists of massive blocks of words, making it something of a literary cliff for audiences to scale. Aging former lovers Valmont and Merteuil (roles shared by Troy Dunn and Sharon Gardner) appear in whiteface and Josephine Poinsot’s lavish, baroque costumes. Through their torrents of language, they play-act multiple parts in a jealousy duet — challenges and counterchallenges for Valmont to de-virginize a Catholic novice (Mariko Oka) and corrupt the “femme de presidente” — all motivated by Merteuil’s desire to marry, and the couple’s mutually held fears of aging and insignificance. (The play is marbled with references to death and physical decay.)
With a large wooden crucifix planted center stage, against which Oka is suspended naked at the play’s opening, this is clearly a pitched battle between mortals and God, between impotence and immortality. Of course the mortals realize they’re on the losing end, cemetery-bound, and this is what motivates their nihilistic swipes at God and determination to push through the constraints of religious and social decorum through such games as sodomizing innocent little girls and gleefully destroying the reputations of lonely women succumbing to sexual temptation. This, and the masks they don while carrying out their brutalities, makes for a perfectly reasonable explanation for why pornography is a multibillion-dollar industry.
Michel stages all of this as a kind of dance with moments of faux-Kabuki formality, performed with strikingly lucid restraint and intelligence by Dunn and Gardner. Oka beautifully plays the added character of “Player,” along with David E. Frank, who, behind a golden mask, makes droll comments on the action.
The combination of taut choreography and freewheeling role playing, in conjunction with a pair of chandeliers suspended against the sky-blue backdrop of Charles A. Duncombe’s set and lighting design, makes for a very elegant and thoughtfully textured event.
TRYING | By JOANNA McCLELLAND GLASS | Presented by COLONY THEATRE, 555 N. Third St., Burbank | Through September 9 | (818) 558-7000
QUARTET | By HEINER MÜLLER, translated by MARC VON HENNING | Presented by CITY GARAGE, 1340½ Fourth St. (alley), Santa Monica | Through September 23 | (310) 319-9939
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