Saturday, October 8, 2011

Cleveland Public Theatre: Springboard - Again And Against

I don't make it West to Cleveland Public Theatre as often as I'd like, but a friend suggested that I check out the Springboard Festival -- and with my Saturday night open (and feeling a bit guilty for missing Pandemonium) I figured it would be a great opportunity to bring Rachel across the river.

Springboard is a festival of staged readings -- each play is a new work, still being honed to perfection. Actors are on script, only a (single) handful of rehearsals are allowed, creative staff are allowed and encouraged to make revisions. I've only attended a handful of readings -- staged or unstaged -- but it appeals to my quest to get "behind the scenes" and it's also a unique opportunity for the audience, in most cases, to contribute to the development of a work -- suggestions and concerns are frequently taken into account as the piece is massaged before it becomes fixed and finally staged.

Tonight's offering was playwright Betty Shamish's Again and Against, with Raymond Bobgan (as an Iraqi-American FBI agent) interrogating Ms. Chris Seibert (as a Palestinian-American accused of terrorism but claiming to agitate only for understanding) with Beth Wood providing the rare bit of context via voice over. In the program, all three are given directing credit; online Ms. Wood has that credit. All three gave commendable performances, with Mr. Bobgan and Ms. Seibert being particularly gripping; especially considering that they were on script*. Based on the casting and context clues it took a relatively long time for me to figure out that both characters shared an ethnic heritage -- which is fairly important to the plot of the play.

The action unfolds entirely within a sparsely-furnished interrogation room. A college student is accused of plotting terrorist acts -- she insists that it's merely a not-so-peaceful protest and she doesn't (and didn't) intend to harm anyone. Over the course of the interrogation stories are told as truth, truth is served as a as a story, and the only thing clear is the lack of clarity: Where do stories end and the truth begin? Does she know more than she's telling; who is actually interrogating her? Where is the line between protest and terrorism? What is truth, anyway? Is it what is written (and therefore the woman's need for her side of the story to be written down during the interrogation?)

Sympathies change with every newly revealed truth -- or is it a lie? While I initially found the female sympathetic... half-witting participant in something she didn't fully understand and without malevolent intentions...the revelation near the end of the play that twenty dogs were involved made me doubt the one thing that heretofore had been without question. Are you assimilated? What culture do you identify with? What do other people see you as?

While the play was gripping and compelling -- billed at a 140-minute, intermisisonless, run time it didn't feel nearly that long -- but so much information was being thrown out, and so much of it then revealed to be lies -- that it was difficult to keep track of what information was actually important, and I feel I occasionally lost track of the message amongst the mental filing, refiling, and shredding.

Following the performance, there was a brief talk back and it was interesting to hear how other audience members reacted: A condemnation of politics and society, from one member. Men generally sympathized with the interrogate (and her sarcastic humor hooked me), while women generally found her abrasive and irritating--and without sympathy. (I wish more productions would include this feature--certainly helps to round out the theatre going experience)

Information about the rest of Springboard can be found on Cleveland Public Theatre's Website at


* i.e. reading from the script.

No comments:

Post a Comment