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..., "said Said

a World Premiere
CATEGORY :
by Kenneth Lin

COMPANY : Alliance Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Woodruff Art Center [WEBSITE]
ID# 1593

SHOWING : April 07, 2006 - April 30, 2006

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Are dying languages worth the effort to save them? The answer isn't so clear, as this year's Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition finds a Nobel-Prize-winning poet visiting his past as his ex-torturer comes for a visit.


CAST & CREW LIST
Fight Choreographer Jason Armit
Guard David Greely Limbach
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REVIEWS

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The Kudzu Effect
by Dedalus
Monday, April 17, 2006
5.0
In his new play “…,’ said Said” (pronounced SED SAH-EED), playwright Kenneth Lin makes the observation that one of the side effects of 17th and 18th-Century Colonialism was the gradual extinction of regional languages, dialects, and cultures. The language of the dominant colonizers (English, Spanish, French, and Dutch) were cultural kudzu, overwhelming and replacing native tongues. Whether the native languages themselves are worth the effort to preserve and defend is a question with no easy answer.

If this sounds like a dry and intellectual basis for a play, it is. Fortunately, Mr. Lin has chosen to frame his thesis in a plot involving torture, revenge, terrorism, survival, mortality, art, language, and finding the grace notes that help us survive atrocity. It’s as if the plot itself has the same “kudzu effect,” overwhelming and replacing the ideas that gave it birth.

To summarize the play’s set-up, Andre Said (Michael Santo) is a Nobel-prize winning poet, nearing the end of his life due to heart disease. He lives with his daughter Sarah (Jacqueline Antaramian) in a secluded Vermont country house. A young graduate student, Emily (Kate Donadio), visits with a request – Said is the last living speaker of an obscure Berber dialect. Scratchings in that dialect have been found in an abandoned Algerian prison cell, scratchings that may prove or disprove whether Said was a pro-Algerian terrorist. Of course, Said himself made these etchings while being held prisoner in that cell for 15 months during the Battle of Algiers. To make matters more intense, Emily has brought Michel Garcet (Victor Slezak), a French ex-patriate and professor who has made Said’s poetry his life’s work. Garcet was also the officer who was responsible for Said’s imprisonment and torture, and is, himself, dying of cancer. He may also have been responsible the deaths of Said’s wife and son, and the atrocities visited upon his daughter (he places the blame on others, but, at that point, his reliability is not especially trustworthy).

A very superficial reading of this play leads to the conclusion that, like many beginning playwrights, Mr. Lin is trying too much – that there is enough thematic material here for several plays. And, that’s no doubt true. What sets this play apart (and why I believe Mr. Lin will be, is already, a voice to be reckoned with) is that the drama, the theatricality is so vivid and intense, he is able to pull it off. His action is focused, his characters are sharp, his dialogue is true, and his thematic digressions hold together as if they were like-shaped leaves on the same vine. This is a moving and gripping play, and it is an experience that makes other plays seem trivial and pointless. This is political theatre at its finest. Particularly memorable is a scene where the young Sarah is blindfolded and brought into her father’s cell. Garcet has made her believe he is a savior and father-figure, and the cowering man in the cell is the “Bad Man” who hurt her mother and is keeping her father from her. Said’s horror at his daughter striking out at him at the urgings of his tormentor is something that cannot be seen without effecting you, without touching that center of humanity that cries out for justice.

To belabor my clumsy metaphor a bit more, it’s easy to rail against how Kudzu takes over a yard, how it overwhelms the more fragile plant life in its way. The cold, hard fact is, that this is natural selection in action. It’s a simple step from asking whether a weaker life form could survive to asking whether it SHOULD survive. Likewise, “…,’ said Said” makes us consider whether a disappearing language should survive. It is an irony of linguistic history that the so-called “conquering languages” themselves developed when a people adapted the language of their conquerors and actually changed it into something new and different. And, the more fragile themes of the play, while arguably overwhelmed by the potboiler plot structure, actually survive and use that structure to become more emotionally resonant.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)







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