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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

“THE PLAYHOUSE: Evocative and Elusive”

Henry lives in a gorgeous Victorian house–the kind you find in haunted house movies, lit by candles in the window and chandeliers. He lives in the cramped and cluttered space of a writer, with piles of dictionaries and encyclopedias on the floor, an old mechanical typewriter on a desk, and an eclectic assortment of hats. There’s even a white picket fence on the very edge of the stage, battered and weather-stripped. It’s an evocative set, wth a backdrop of spiral patterns reminiscent of van Gogh’s “Starry Night” or Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.” Besides the aforementioned candles, the set – and indeed the play – is defined by lighting: the flicker of lightning outside the window, for example, which wakes Henry at the outset of the play. His wakefulness proves short-lived, as he blows out the candles and retires to bed.

Henry (performed by playwright Robert Kropf) is trying to jumpstart his creativity and write a play. His creative flow is hampered by the many wounds that have been visited upon the family. Henry’s mother (Donna Sorbello), who owns the house, is still coming to terms with the absence of her husband, who left on the day her son was born. One wounded relationship in turn wounds another, and though they share the same house, it’s obvious that mother and son lead very separate lives. Henry’s sister (Adrianna Krstansky), drawn to the house by the same candle Henry puffs out, comes by to visit, to coax Henry to finish his play, and eventually to perform it on the living room sofa, bouncing on the cushions between each line.

Henry’s play, called “The Walker House,” a semi-autobiographical view of the family, provides some sense of revelation, but also triggers great destruction: the burning of the house, the mother’s eventual suicide. Truth and deceit are commonly bred, life and death are inextricably bound, and yet great catastrophe can give way to greater beauty as, after the events of these past few weeks one can only hope fervently. But the characters, and indeed the very language of the play, focus inwardly on memories, on fears, on pain. Henry and his mother clutch their secrets tightly, and hint at treasures safeguarded within, but even at the end of the play these jewels are never brought out to light.

Henry varies between a slightly less neurotic Woody Allen and a resurrected beat poet. Henry’s mother, in contrast, is nearly monochromatic in her sense of loss and anguish, while Henry’s sister lapses in and out of so many characterizations – French chic, Southern belle – that her role as devoted sibling seems incidental, merely one of many portraitures. Meanwhile, Henry’s audience struggles to keep up with the play. The metaphors are as cramped as the furniture – fire, rain, fog, vision, life and death, and time – and in crowding in so much material Kropf ignores both local fire codes and poetic sensibility. Too often “The Playhouse” seems taken with its own sense of drama, confusing obscurity for profundity. Like lightning seen through fog, or a candle in the window, it’s easy to see this light – but difficult to see anything by it.

“The Playhouse” by Robert Kropf. At the Boston Playwright’s Theater, September 6 – 23. Produced by Ritual Theater Co. Directed by Wesley Savich. Starring Adrianne Krstansky, Robert Kropf, and Donna Sorbello. Suggested Donation $10 ($5 students and seniors).