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1:23

a Drama
CATEGORY : DRAMA
by Carson Kreitzer

COMPANY : Synchronicity Performance Group [WEBSITE]
VENUE : 7 Stages [WEBSITE]
ID# 3321

SHOWING : April 17, 2009 - May 17, 2009

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Susan Smith, Andrea Yates, Juana Leija. Once normal women, normal mothers. Now branded forever by their ability to commit the unthinkable crime. In Carson Kreitzer's stunning drama, we peer into the defining moments of three broken lives. Can the water that drowned these mothers' children ever wash the women clean?


CAST & CREW LIST
Set Designer Rochelle Barker
Lighting Designer Jessica Coale
Sound Designer Chip Epsten
Movement Celeste Miller
Video Designer John Pruner
Costume Designer Elizabeth Rasmusson
Assistant Video Designer Michael Strauss
Juana Leija / La Llorona / La Malinche Suehyla El-Attar
Susan Smith Rachel Garner
Andrea Yates Dori Garziano
Stevens, a detective Mark Gray
McManus, a detective Daniel May
Carjacker Theroun Patterson
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

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Sanity's Hidden Tributaries
by Dedalus
Monday, May 4, 2009
3.5
If sanity can be described as a river, there are some hidden branches that sometimes shake our consciousness, our rosy world view of life and humankind. The man who preys on children, the child who murders her friends, the leader who sells out his country, the husband who kills his spouse with his children watching – all these are branches of what we like to call sanity – unrecognizable (and non-sane) to the main stream, but of the liquid whole, paying tribute, as it were, to our collective unconscious. One of the most “un-sane” tributaries has to be the mother who murders her children. And yet, which parent among us has NOT been pushed to edge of patience, the edge of reason, by those we are charged with protecting and raising? Of course, few of us make the leap into unsane waters, but we definitely recognized their sight, their music, their smell.

Carson Kreitzer’s “1:23,” now being staged by Synchronicity Performance Group, is a too-short, too-cluttered, too-shallow examination of these waters. To be honest, it fails at making these disturbed waters recognizable, or human. But, at the same time, it is filled with vivid imagery, gut-wrenching moments, and theatrical experiments that made me want to forgive its pretentiousness, mis-fires, and curiously ineffective choices. It is also a wonderfully directed and acted piece that put me in awe at the ability and courage of these actors.

The play focuses on two recent cases of filicide, with some background stuff thrown in about a third. Susan Smith was a young mother who drove her children into a lake, then claimed they were kidnapped by a “black carjacker.” Andrea Yates was a woman suffering from diagnosed mental illness and post-partum depression who methodically drowned all five of her children. The third case was a mostly illiterate Hispanic immigrant who tried to drown her children to save them from an abusive father.

One of the things I did not like about this piece was that this third case struck me as the most intriguing of the three, the best opportunity to create a character an audience could understand, even empathize with. Yet her case is barely mentioned, does not really add anything to the two main stories, and is performed by the same actress (the wonderful Suehyla El-Attar) who also plays the mythological figures of La Llorona and La Malinche. This has the unfortunate effect of making Juana Leija’s case less about an important psychological or sociological dysfunction, and more about being an inevitable cog in some archetypical continuum common to Hispanics. Not only does it add an ugly racist veneer to the play, it also undercuts any empathy we’d need for these characters. Putting filicide into a mythological, archetypical context in effect says “The Devil Made Me Do It.” It does nothing to help us recognize where those same streams of madness may hide in us. And, if the author wanted to create a mythological archetype, wouldn't Medea have been a better choice (or at least one less fraught with ethnic overtones).

By the same token, the shortness of this play (under 70 minutes) leaves the main stories underdeveloped. We really learn nothing about the Smith and Yates cases we didn’t already know or couldn’t learn by reading on-line accounts and commentary. The writing is police-procedural by-the-numbers, and is, frankly, a bit cold and uninvolving. I also question the inclusion of the “Carjacker” character (though Theroun Patterson takes every opportunity to make human what is essentially a political-symbolic construct). He gives a note of justification to Susan Smith’s story, and his repeated references to other bizarre white-accusation creating black-boogeyman stories is a tad gratuitous and exploitative. While there is a nice emotional pay-off in the last scene regarding him, I still find his character emotionally (and theatrically) dishonest.

I also need to gripe about the clumsy symbolism of the title, and the repeated references to 1:23 Biblical verses. This is another college freshman tactic, imposing “meaning” on a symbol out of proportion to its relevance. It’s also bringing an element of numerology into a play already rife with pseudoscientific quackery. What’s worse is that there was another symbol that could have had more relevance – that of water. All the crimes were drownings and we do get an occasional acknowledgement that there is a water element connecting these stories, but they are small and inconsequential. We’re battered over the head with all the various “1:23” references, none of which add to the story, the characters, or our sense of understanding of the situation. Yet, the water images are treated with the kid gloves of a hydrophobic.

All this being said, I still think the play packs an emotional wallop, particularly the final scenes. Rachel Garner makes us truly believe that Susan Smith believes her carjacker story, and her pleading with him to give her children back is one of the few emotional pay-offs for his character. Dori Garziano has a much more difficult job as Andrea Yates. She must calmly and coldly recount in clinical precision what she did to her children, while a video camera mercilessly blows her face up on back-of-set screens. This is a subtle, strong performance that risks everything, so that, when she doesn’t understand the enormity of what she’s done, when she ignores the crime’s implications even while confessing its details, the conflict is mesmerizing to watch. If Susan Smith’s madness is Delusion, Andrea Yates’ is Denial.

So, in essence, by layering on too much pretentious symbolism and archetype conjecture, this script fails completely at letting us into the minds of these women, at letting us see the world through their eyes, even at removing our judgmental black-and-white filters to recognize any “shades of gray” in their actions and statements. It does affectively manipulate our emotions so we still feel sadness at their madness, their actions. But it is a shallow, theatrical emotion, not an empathy that leads to understanding. On the other hand, Ms. Garner and Ms. Garziano fill much of that gap left by the playwright, and I maintain that any sympathy we feel for these characters is 100% the result of their talent and commitment.

Police officers played by Mark Gray and Danel Thomas May provide a nice counterpoint to the women, falling into their own madstreams (or pushed by the killers), and, as previously mentioned, Suehyla El-Attar and Theroun Patterson do nice work with underwritten (and frankly pretentious) character constructs. The set is suitably gray and grim, and the live video feeds add to the emotional impact.

A few years ago, I criticized Ms. Kreitzer’s “The Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer” for containing too many pretentious elements, but praised it for combining mythological and historical characters in an effective manner. Here, I believe the mythological elements undercut her theme and derail its progress. Thank goodness it could be rescued by two wonderful actresses playing characters drowned in the hidden tributaries of un-sanity.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)



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