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FROM THIS EPISODE

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Two brothers. Foreign born. One the leader, the brains. The other the follower, who idolizes his brother. They are angry. Maybe at the government. Maybe not.

This anger finds its way to senseless murder. And we, as observers, are plagued with the simple question "Why?"

Sounds disturbingly like Boston, right?

Actually, that's the coincidental setup for a new play at Boston Court, Dan Dietz's American Misfit.

The play centers on two Scottish brothers in America immediately after the revolutionary war. Based loosely on the real life Harpe brothers, our two anti-heroes have a beef with George Washington. You see, they're Tories, or monarchists, and believe that the only reasonable form of government includes a King. So they go on a mindless killing spree.

I know, I don't really follow the logic either - which is the central problem of the script, compounded by Michael Michetti's direction: which focuses more on empty spectacle than political contemplation.

The brothers are only one third of the play's storylines.

The setting is a high school auditorium circa 1955 before a dance. On the stage within a stage, is a Rockabilly band. The lead singer, decked out in a red satin suit, croons and serves as our de facto narrator - taking us back in time.

At random intervals, the action of the play is suddenly disrupted by 'the needle on the record of history skipping' and out walks a historical figure: we get George Washington, Robert E. Lee, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and finally Ronald Reagan.

This may sound formally daring: a revolutionary terrorism tale, sung and danced to rockabilly, with poignant commentary from a sort of 'significant, if problematic, men of American History'. But to me, it felt more like a formal shell game. I'm all for 'non-traditional narrative' but...why?

Which me back to Boston and, humbly, to one of theater's roles in society.

We are left after the marathon bombings wondering: why? How could a human being be capable of this? How do we process this?

The ancient Greeks, with their complicated notion of catharsis, thought theater could speak to these questions. Great plays, like Medea or MacBeth, have taken us into unspeakable acts and if not made sense of them - at least honestly plumbed their depths.

The folks at Boston Court couldn't have imagined how their choice of plays would resonate with national events but that doesn't free them from the responsibility of asking 'why?' Not 'why do a play about American terrorists' but why do these two men kill? Why is the stage littered with bodies at the end of act one? What is this play trying to tell us?

Sadly, like so much of the news media, Boston Court seems to have settled for spectacle and foregone meaning.

American Misfit plays at the Theatre at Boston Court in Pasadena through May 12.

For a little political antidote checkout Guillermo Calderón's plays at REDCAT - this weekend only.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Run time: 2 hours with an intermission

 

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