nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
December 3, 2008
A touring theatrical company rolls into another stop on its endless itinerary, a nameless town with a down-at-heels theater. The sets and costumes are mysteriously delayed. The heat doesn't work. The people in charge, a pair of siblings named Claire and Felice, are notoriously volatile. The actors, finally fed up with it all, bail out en masse without any notice, leaving Claire and Felice to put on a show with no resources. In last minute desperation they cancel their intended performance and replace it with another—a smaller, more intimate work called "The Two-Character Play," in which the two characters are conveniently named Claire and Felice.
Did I mention that both brother and sister are a bit, um, touched in the head?
Leave it to Tennessee Williams to concoct the unhinged metatheatricality of Out Cry, a lesser-known work of the author's from 1973. The play contains plenty of Williams's trademark savage intensity and beautiful, poetic strangeness, and is a potent commentary on the easily blurred lines between fiction and reality. Unfortunately, all of those qualities get underserved in the National Asian American Theatre Company's current pedestrian revival of the play. Marred by unsure direction and erratic acting, NAATCO's Out Cry limps and dodders where it should soar, and hums politely where it should electrify.
One thing Williams's plays never lack is urgency, and Out Cry is no different. But Thom Sesma's direction drains the play of its high stakes, making the conflict—the possible collapse of both the touring company, and Claire and Felice's sanity along with it—only cosmetic. The conceit of Out Cry is that the protagonists spend most of the play performing "The Two-Character Play," and keep slipping in and out of what's real and what's not until the line between the two is blurred beyond recognition. But, as directed by Sesma, their performance is far too casual. He never convinces us that Claire and Felice are doing a full-on performance: a half-speed rehearsal, maybe, but nothing more. Plus, Sesma never seems to decide which parts of Out Cry are the play-within-the-play and which parts aren't, making things even more wonky and confusing. It's as if he hasn't invested enough in the world of the play to make it convincing for himself, much less the audience.
Sesma also trips his actors up by instructing them to play their roles more likeably (and, again, less urgently) than they're written. As portrayed by Mia Katigbak and Eduardo Machado, respectively, Claire is a spoiled diva and Felice is dutifully put-upon. Neither is desperate or disturbed (or disturbing, for that matter). It's as if the entire situation is just a minor inconvenience for both characters, instead of a matter of life or death. Katigbak fares better under these circumstances, coming off like a veteran trouper who knows she's in a bad show and is still trying to make the best of it. Machado, on the other hand, just looks uncomfortable and embarrassed to be on stage.
By going against the grain of Williams's strong, decisive writing, this Out Cry sedates a madness that should build as the story progresses, not dissipate into the ether.