nytheatre.com review by Matt Johnston
August 15, 2009
As you probably know, the term aperture is taken from photography—it's an opening or space where light can pass through on a camera. This space can be adjusted to determine how much or how little light you want to pass through, based on what you would like to see. If it sounds to you like a great metaphor for the title of a play, unfortunately, Sean Christopher Lewis has already snatched it up with his new play in the FringeNYC Festival this year, titled The Aperture. Also unfortunate, however, is that the metaphor and the idea in this case are much more interesting than the actual play and performance itself.
This two-character play centers around a photographer named Alex (in a great performance by Heather Anderson Boll) and her relationship with a young man named Okello John (Isaiah Isaac) who grew up in a war-torn Uganda, where he was a child soldier. Alex develops a flirtatious relationship with the young man, who is bright, energetic, and friendly. During the course of this hour-long play, their relationship develops and Alex begins to ask Okello John to pose for photographs where he is holding a gun and looking altogether menacing. These photographs, of course, end up becoming extremely controversial (and therefore make Alex famous), as they depict a very young African man looking like he is on the front lines of an exploited army of young people, forced to kill against his will.
If the plot sounds a bit gray that's because it is. It was not altogether clear to me why Alex decided to exploit Okello John and put him in these photographs, nor was it clear why he allowed her to (until he calls her out on it near the end). There are interspersed scenes where the two characters seem to be playing out events from Okello John's childhood to add depth to his character and the situation, but I found them confusing, unsure of what reality they were supposed to be inside of. After a scene where the two of them meet for the first time, the script seems to plunge into this odd rabbit hole where everything gets a bit too avant-garde for its own good and the story gets lost in this strange quagmire of stuff.
I was interested to see this play, as I have studied Uganda extensively and the underground armies children were/are forced into during its history. Though the play seems on the surface to be about this tragedy in Uganda, it turns out to be about something else—and I found that something else to be not at all interesting.