Friday, September 17, 2010

Something You Didn't Do

Performance:Something You Did
: Theater J, 1529 16th Street NW
Metro Stops
: Dupont Circle – Red line or U Street/Cardozo-Green line. Directions here.
: Political Drama
: Aug 28-Oct 3
All 35 and under tickets are $15.
2.5 out of 5 Starving Artists

I really wanted to like Something You Did, the season opener at Theater J. On paper, it sounds really interesting. The play, by Willy Holtzman, fictionalizes from real life events to tell the story of an anti-war activist, who was put in jail in the early ‘80s after one of her protests took the life of a police officer. Now, in present day she is up for appeal and trying to decide how she feels about her crime as she confronts her victims and her comrades, some of whom have switched sides. The story draws liberally from the lives of Kathy Boudin and David Horowitz, both members of the Weather Underground movement of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Boudin ended up in jail for their violent protests, while Horowitz remained free and became an outspoken neo-conservative. The playwright, Holtzman, imagines these two personalities actually getting the chance to confront each other and the people they have become, 20 years later. See what I mean. It’s got all the trappings of a play I’d like. History, relevance, interesting characters, and an opportunity for change to happen in a crucible. And yet, I left feeling that the show was mostly a dud. I guess the fact that it worked better on paper is a sign that I would have liked the book better (if only it had been a book!)

And thus I’m torn about Something You Did. On the one hand, I feel like it has, at its core, a kernel of an idea that is quite interesting to explore. But on the other hand, I’m not sure these ideas translate well to the stage. Perhaps they would work better in a book, or film, but on stage they get a bit lost. For me, theater is most powerful when it is about people, and emotion, and most of all change. The problem with this play is that people change a lot, but it has all happened before the play starts. And this would be ok if we got to see how people reacted to these changes or how they were affected by them. Instead, in this play, people just sort of talk about these changes. It all seems quite cerebral (and not in the good way) and straight forward (and not in the good way). In movie we might get to really peer into their eyes, and see how they looked at each other. And in a book we would have gotten to read more about their history, and their inner struggles. But on stage, when all we have to go on is what they say and how they behave, everything felt quite flat.

This situation was not helped by the acting, which I felt was almost universally lacking. Each character needed a little more something. Deborah Hazlettt, who plays Allison the imprisoned activist, needed to either be more indignant and fiery or more withdrawn and introspective. Norman Aronivic needed to be more wise and charming as her lawyer. Aakhu Freeman could have been angrier and more impassioned as the daughter of Allison’s victim. And Rick Roucheux needed to be a lot more pompous and emboldened as the Horowitz character. Everybody oscillated between a 4 and a 7 on the “intensity scale” and I was always waiting for someone to turn it up to 11. Not for the whole time, but for a few moments it would have been nice. Lolita-Marie was probably my favorite actor as Uneeq, the prison guard, but she was there more as a plot device to move the conversation along than as a real character, so that doesn’t count either.

So it’s hard for me to tell if my complaints were mostly about the play or mostly about the production. The two are so interdependent that I won’t be able to tell. And more than likely it was a combination of the two. I’m sure that they influenced each other in some sort of self-negating prophecy. Now I’ve just read back through my review thus far and it sounds like I hated the show. I certainly did not. I just didn’t love it as much as I’d hoped to. I was disappointed and, worse than that, bored. I’m not saying don’t see it, and I know that other people have liked it a lot, but I am saying you may be better off seeing something else. But if they ever make this play into a movie or a book, definitely check it out.

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