Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Handcart Ensemble's Reading of Adam Kraar's EMPIRE OF THE TREES

UPDATE: Adam emailed me to let me know that the play is set in New Delhi, not New Calcutta. Oops. New Calcutta apparently only exists in my imagination, alas.

Caught the Handcart Ensemble reading of Adam Krarr's EMPIRE OF THE TREES yesterday. This play placed second in their playwriting contest. Mary Fengar Gail, who is friends with Adam, invited me and met me there.

This was a very evocative and rich script set in the early 196os in Calcutta. An American journalist (Carl) and his wife (Deborah) are living an isolated life abroad. Deborah is trying to recover from a miscarriage and becomes increasingly withdrawn and disappointed with the men in her life, finding refuge and romance with an untouchable book peddlar/beggar who comes to the house selling possibly stolen books. Adam developed the play at the William Inge Theatre Festival in Kansas earlier this year.

The lead actress, Catherine Eaton, did a suberb job with the play, I thought. She was playing a very meek and overly-polite southern woman of the sixties, but the actress' naturally forceful personality and passion spilled out of the character at unexpected moments-- created a compelling portrait of frustrated desire and longing for adventure. Also Ben Masur, who played her husband, lifted his character from what might have been a moustache-twirling melodrama villian into a fully human and almost sympathetic figure. Also Ed Hajj, who played roles as various as JFK, Indian servants, animate trees, and an oustanding Robert-Duval-from-Tender-Mercies southern patriarch, really stole the reading.

Went to the Zipper room afterward with Mary Fengar Gail, Adam, Ben, and Lorca Peress-- the artistic director of MultiStages, who produced a stunning and gorgeously realized version of Mary's play THE JUDAS TREE a few months ago. It is wonderful to go out with theater people and have long, wide-ranging discussions about the state of theater and trends in playwriting. Quite an enjoyable evening.

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