By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Howard Korder’s magnificent In a Garden, which will be presented next March at SCR, is set in an unspecified Middle East nation that sounds a bit like Afghanistan. Over a 16-year span, it follows a sequence of visits by a second-rate American architect (Greg Germann) to that country’s Minister of Culture (Mark Harelik), for a commissioned gazebo, or modest country house, adjoining a mosque. His task is to create a garden of paradise in hell. The increasingly frustrated Yank is cursed not only by his professional mediocrity (“Is this how you treat Robert Stern?”/“Of course not, Robert Stern is famous”), but by his culturally induced yearning to receive straight answers to straight questions. What he gets instead is a 16-year mind fuck consisting of meetings with leaders who aren’t actually leaders at all, a stream of poetical motifs, non sequiturs and nonanswers to clear questions, such as: Is the project on or off? All of this transpires amid the increasingly apparent backdrop of vicious tribal warfare and an American invasion. And all the architect wants is “to be built” — a monument when all else is slipping away. David Warren directed the topflight cast, Harelik’s wry, pompous and ultimately bruised Minister of Culture was a kind of monument in itself, and Bernard White was also excellent as the president of whatever country we were in.
Michael John Garcés handily directed Bill Cain’s 9 Circles: Imagine Equus — but instead of a damaged boy blinding horses, we get a damaged and bright Army grunt (Bill Heck) from Midland, Texas, serving overseas, who rapes, then kills, a 14-year-old Iraqi child in her bedroom while her family is shot in cold blood, and who then presides over the burning of her body. The play analyzes this soldier in nine slickly paced scenes — perspectives ranging from the psychiatric to the theological and the judicial. The courtroom finale questions whether we should be sending such young people to war — a question imbued with pat rhetoric that feels at odds with Cain’s harrowing and probing inquiry into an American character. As though things would be better if we sent somebody else?
David Wiener’s Extraordinary Chambers (directed by Art Manke) takes us to Cambodia, where a visiting American couple (Kirsten Potter and Andrew Borba) find their own marriage threatened by the wife’s compulsion to adopt, through secret channels, an orphaned infant. The decision to serve her own emotional need for a child smacks up against how such a choice would accommodate their hosts (Darrell Kunitomi and Kimiko Gelman), who are clearly part of the Khmer Rouge’s genocidal legacy. The subtle cross-cultural gaffes form much of the play’s delight, as well the ultimate morality of the American businessman, who you’d think could rationalize any horror. The characters come marbled with such wonderful contradictions, and Potter brought a particularly appealing intelligence to the wife. At this stage, the play suffered from excessively lugubrious narration by a servant named Sopoan (Greg Watanabe).
Director Bart DeLorenzo brought out the innate charm in Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s Doctor Cerberus: With echoes of early Christopher Durang, it told the story of a gay boy’s coming of age as a writer, through an inspiring uncle and his obsession with the TV host of a horror-movie show. Though not lacking in humor, it feels trite at this stage. The play demonizes the boy’s repressed, control-freak parents — with a coy admission near the story’s end that the boy might have been overreacting. Credit the playwright with striving for honesty. Beyond wishing the protagonist well, I just didn’t care much.