A student of architecture before becoming a playwright, Safdie - son of famed architect Moshe Safdie, who designed L.A.'s Skirball Cultural Center - integrates high-toned analytical jargon into a sexually-laced confrontation between a famous architect (Daniel J. Travanti) tasked with designing a Holocaust museum in contemporary Poland and the attractive and impassioned architectural intern (Amanda Saunders) who challenges his ideas.
Half-Jewish, Anton Seligman (Travanti) has, in his own words, been embraced by the Jewish community, and his selection as creator of this prestigious cutting edge project has been made with monetary considerations (hopefully Jewish tourists will open their wallets) in mind. He's secretly delighted to meet Linda (Saunders), whom he's covertly espied prior to this face-to-face encounter. Dazzled by his reputation, Linda has researched his life and work and once wrote a term paper about him.
But for reasons not entirely clear, Linda finds Anton's model an unsatisfactory memorial for Holocaust victims: It lacks poetry, she tells him, and is entirely too blunt in its message. Her considerable praise for his body of work is tempered by the cutting observation that he's begun to copy himself. When he challenges her to produce a better design than he, she fails. He even offers to guide her hand but (in what is supposed to be an erotic scene but failed to play that way for me) the result is unimpressive.
As is the production. The main problem is with the script, which is weighed down with terminology that really does seem lifted from a sophomoric student thesis. There's a lot of talk about things like "early theoretical forms" and "an elegant aesthetic sensibility." As to the staging (Safdie also directs), there's a lack of chemistry between these two performers - an essential element in a play where, for one character anyway, underlying lust is the driving dynamic. Travanti looks especially uncomfortable throughout, often resorting to posturing as a substitute for portraiture.
Saunders, initially stiff, eventually loosens up when called upon to reveal Linda's personal stake in the conflict. But the two players never really seem to connect, which makes the problematic dialogue sound all the more cumbersome.
Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth Street, Santa Monica; through May 11. (800) 838-3006, brownpapertickets.com/event/588251.
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If you're not much on abstract theory when it comes to interpreting architecture as art, chances are you'll find Oren Safdie's