The Party of Man

In scenes reminiscent of the recent Republican convention, Marius seeks to imprison Helen because of his "Christian conscience," which easily rhymes with "family values." When Marius accuses Helen of "idolatry" because she sculpts owls and Buddhist totems instead of Christian angels, one recalls Pat Robertson tearing apart the Equal Rights Amendment because it "encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians."

Obviously, the Party of Man needs to act, and act quickly. Bravo to New Theatre for finding the right work at the right time and for the courage to present it. "We don't persecute harmless old ladies," Marius snipes. "No, you don't," agrees Elsa, "but how about the ones who aren't harmless?"

THE ROAD TO MECCA by Athol Fugard, directed by Richard Janaro; with Sarah Lee, Kathryn Byrne, and Bill Yule. At New Theatre, 65 Almeria Ave, Coral Gables, through October 18. Performances Thursday-Saturday 8:00 p.m., Sunday 5:00 p.m. Tickets cost $12.50-$15; free to U.S. Armed Forces, National Guard, Police and Fire Depts, FPL, Red Cross, and other hurricane relief personnel with proper ID. Call 443-5909.

STAGE NOTES
If one supposedly grows younger traveling faster than the speed of light, then I suppose it makes sense that The Speed of Darkness -- as written by Steve Tesich and produced by the Ensemble Stage -- could turn anyone into a centenarian from Ecuador. Understand that playwright Tesich, sreenwriter of Breaking Away and Eleni (so-so films) also turned one of literature's finest contemporary novels, The World According to Garp by John Irving, into one of the worst film scripts conceivable on this or any other planet. Tesich errs here once again, with TV Movie of the Week fare that insults the integrity of theater, as he combines pseudo-ecological statements with post-Vietnam angst, a plea for the homeless, and thin religious symbolism. You can just hear this hack licking his lips and promising himself to write the great American play.

As far as the production, David Caprita of Love 94 builds the only true character, Lou, a homeless philosopher-veteran, but then again, it's the only role to which Tesich lent any depth and a few good lines. Scott Genn as Eddie and Shea Colbert as Mary (maybe Marcie -- the cast can't decide which is her name) imitate life but without energy; however, that's a blessing next to Kerry Sensenbach and Kim St. Leon as the dysfunctional mom and dad, whose characters steadily strain credibility and whose acting skills need a whole lotta work.

In the plot implausibilities abound. One example: Joe, a veteran turned town hero, sprayed extensively with Agent Orange in 'Nam, returns home to South Dakota and takes revenge on American society by dumping nuclear waste into the ground for five years, sans protective suit. Quite some time later, all this dude suffers from is sterility. Inflicting him with a bad case of psoriasis would have been equally as realistic.

The direction by Michael Gioia sabotages nothing, but doesn't save anyone, either, any more than Caprita's performance can rescue this mess. The board-flat first act consists of a succession of seemingly endless scenes, and no action takes place until the last five minutes. Lisa Lamont of Ensemble Stage obviously means well, but could use the assistance of a dramaturg -- this is the second consecutive time her choice of plays could sabotage her new company's reputation.

If you've been experiencing insomnia lately and would like a sure two-hour nap, trudge up to Davie for the soporific The Speed of Darkness. To sample the numbing boredom and sophomoric scribbling, call 452-0972 until October 11th, after which time it will, thankfully,be gone.

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