Details

Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 5 p.m. and Mondays, 7 p.m. Continues through June 13 2017
$25

Location Info:

Son of Semele
3301 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA  90004
213-351-3507
Among the subtitles to Archipelago, Caridad Svich’s hauntingly enigmatic hallucination of a love story that is currently receiving its American premiere by Son of Semele Ensemble, are labels like “a memory play” and “a play on memory,” as well as “a dream of life.” These are all helpful to know before settling into a 2016 drama that is disorientingly stripped of the kind of reassuring external signposts that have accompanied romantic tragedy since Romeo and Juliet.


It’s a vague and harrowingly tenuous place to spend 90 minutes. Rather than wasting words on the conventional whos, whats, wheres or whens of the genre, the bittersweet Archipelago unfolds almost entirely in the subjective blur of its two characters’ acts of remembering. Sarah Rosenberg and Michael Evans Lopez play star-crossed lovers whose existence is defined so exclusively in the ephemerality of the moment that concrete details are few. Even their names go unspoken until the final lines of the play.


The couple’s episodic, two-decade relationship unfolds as a series of long separations interrupted by intense encounters that together form a topography of isolated and fleeting connection — islands of emotional continuity in a world increasingly disrupted by the violence and uncertainties of the political strife around them. Clues, however, suggest an American woman and a possibly Middle Eastern man who meet as carefree and careless 20-something travelers in a foreign, perhaps European city. There they are thoughtlessly parted, then fatefully thrown together nearly a lifetime later to pick up where they left off. But this time, they are in the man’s unnamed native city where the riptides of chance and revolution (Svich’s desert imagery and composer John Nobori’s exotic score suggest a conflict like the Arab Spring) converge to again sweep them apart before throwing them back together for the play’s oddly tentative yet hopeful conclusion.


Rosenberg and Lopez do an expert job at rooting Svich’s clipped lyricism and densely poetic arias in the familiar raptures, fits of pique and rueful regrets that punctuate any love affair. And Lopez is all the more impressive for ably navigating the script’s most forbidding passages — the powerful monologues Svich has written in the disjointed poetry of the aphasia that his character suffers after being wounded in the play's political violence.


Nevertheless, and in spite of the actors’ considerable heat, with language so narrowly focused on interior states of mind and an external world pushed so deeply into the background, the proceedings begin to feel coldly distanced and frustratingly disengaged. Designer Meg Cunningham’s set of benches and layered gauze curtains, which impressionistically diffract the imagery of Kat Pagsolingan’s ethereal projections, only emphasizes the play’s dreamlike dimensions.


While that may be faithful to Svich’s intent, one soon begins to wish that director Barbara Kallir had countered the amorphousness of the play in a presentation more rigorously grounded in the physical than the single erotic “dance” sequence indifferently choreographed by Giovanni Ortega. In a production note, Svich recommends “a strong choreographic aesthetic,” and Kallir’s staging leaves one wistfully imagining how a bolder, dance-theater approach like that of director Tina Kronis might better complement Svich's airy lyricism.

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