Political elements have been essential to drama since its beginning about 2500 years ago, but theatre from the British Isles has often had more emphasis on current controversy than here in America. Things may be changing. A script like Scotsman Gregory Burke's "Gagarin Way" did get a brief run in NYC, but hasn't been seen much since. The Sugan Theatre however has done its share of such works directed by Carmel O'Reilly, their Artistic director. This time the helm goes to Brendan Hughes, back in Boston after a three year stint getting an MFA from Yale Drama. Before he left Hughes was instrumental in founding the Theatre Cooperative over in Somerville on Broadway, which now under Lesley Chapman is perhaps the area's leading purveyor of socially critical theatre. The Coop just wrapped up a run of W.M.Downs' "Dead White Males".
Burke's play, his first, first staged at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2001, received a Fringe First, transferred to the RNT, then to a sold-out run on the West End. The author won the Critic's Circle Most Promising Playwright and the play was nominated for an Olivier. Burke's second major work, "The Straits"(2003), written in response to the current conflict in Iraq, has also had some success. "Gagarin Way", named after a street in W. Fife which honors the first cosmonaut, concerns workers who may be about to lose jobs to internationalization. Sugan veteran Ciaran Crawford, plays Eddie, a loose cannon who's been in the asylum and the knick, now working in this warehouse. He's encouraged Gary, a radical union member played by burly Rick Park, to kidnap a visiting salaryman from the home office. They assume he will be Japanese as in the past. The poor sod turns out to be a consultant from Surrey named Frank, played by Sugan newcomer Dafydd Rees. Their parent company's been bought out by the Americans. The pair decide to execute him anyway to emphasize their protest, but complications and a great deal of discussion ensue. Caught up in this deadly irony is Tom, played by Rodney Raftery. He's a University grad with a degree in politics working as the nighttime security guard at this plant which manufactures computer chips. He let them in--for a small bribe--but then he forgot his hat.
This rather gut-wrenching comedy, which shifts abruptly from comic commentary on modern philosophy to ultra-violence and back again, is tightly directed by Hughes, who combines the disparate styles of his cast to create a believable microcosm. Crawford, who appeared recently in the Off-Broadway production of Ronan Noone's "Lepers of Baile Baiste"--this time as Yowsa--has the same unpredictable spark in West Fife. His Eddie's an insidious talker. Park brings his comedic skills to anarchist Gary, while maintaining an air of danger appropriate to someone who began his life in the coalpits. Rees, whose day job is writing about popular music but who's appeared at W.H.A.T. as well, is the careworn corporate consultant to a T. Frank's long ago resigned to being stuck in middle management. Rafferty, seen last winter as Crumpet the elf, uses his skills as a physical comedian to create Tom. This educated unemployable is a the likable loser, clueless even when in extreme danger. Hughes melds their disparate styles and various accents into a wild 90 minute ride, full of Pythoness laughter until the reality of the situation turns ghastly just before the final curtain.
Sugan has always made an effort to use interesting settings. This time the job falls to Hughes fellow Yalie, Sandra Goldmark. She's surrounded the square playing area with tall steel shelves full of identical boxes bearing the company name, which is ominously "plode". Its ultra-realism--the clock even works and tells the correct time for the action--sets off the absurdity of the situation and makes the climax all the more appalling. Those queasy at the sight of blood should be warned. Veteran lighting designer, John R. Malinowski has simulated the flat glare of industrial lighting making everything all too clear. Chelsea White's costumes are similarly appropriate, from Tom's nerdy uniform to Gary's flapping leather great coat, as the fat man tries to be a dashing revolutionary. The crew will have their hands full removing the blood. Director Hughes, incidentally, will nest direct the world premiere of `Kicker' by Robert Simonson in NY and is scheduled to helm a new play by the authors of "Matt and Ben."
Sugan's season began with Synge's "The Well of Saints", where the violence most mostly verbal and the overtones religious. Their second offering, their first in the Roberts Studio, Tom Murphy's "The Sanctuary Lamp", was set in a church and equally intense. Burke's "Gagarin Way", which owes a bit to Edward Bond and Joe Orton, has little to do with God, instead quoting Sarte, "Hell is other people." The author makes his case.
**In the middle of the run, Sugan regular Eric Hamel replaced Rodney Raftery.
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