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Temple

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

For roughly half the country (and probably more than half of New York City), Tim Aumiller's Temple will be like their political nightmares given theatrical form. In the cramped confines of Manhattan Theatre Source, and in 90 equally cramped minutes, they can see their worst fears about the Bush administration explode into violent, vituperative life.

Nothing else at all, though, ignites during Aumiller's screeching screed, which so dwells in its unchecked and unfocused anger that it never becomes the compelling play it might have been. This doesn't stop director Greg Foro from giving it the full pre-apocalyptic Samuel Beckett-Adam Rapp treatment, or his seven actors from jumping into its polluted waters with both feet. It just stops everyone from achieving the intended indictment of American conservative social policies, with a special focus on gay rights.

In Temple's not-so-distant future, homosexuality is all but outlawed: If gay men and women are discovered, they're ostracized from society and family, stripped of their rights, and forced into treatment programs. This has fomented an entirely separate culture, one which must furtively seek out all romantic and sexual satisfaction in underground bars and clubs, and one which is planning an assault on the government that's marginalized them.

In fact, it's already begun: A small band of dissidents (described by media propagandists as a "radical atheist group") has unleashed a virus to destroy all traces of the government's homosexuality records, and level the playing field once and for all. This has set off riots the country over, and has all but instigated the dissolution of the government infrastructure.

As none of that can be depicted onstage, we see merely the aftermath, with five revolutionists, a sympathizer, and a bystander waiting in a burned-out D.C. apartment building to be led to safety. This results in little but talking and screaming (mostly screaming) about the situation, the evildoers who brought it about, and the brighter future to come.

But despite the incessant chatter, you never feel you hear a voice that isn't Aumiller's, trying to help him settle his own personal grievances. The people onstage only wallow in old ideas, without characterizations rich enough to personalize them for us. Jon (David Rudd) is the group's leader, apparently because he's the one with rippling pecs and legendary sexual prowess; Russ (Shannon Michael Wamser) is the heavy, because he shouts all the time and has a predilection for swearing; Remy (Tom Baran) is the mortally wounded hero and Jon's current flavor of the week; Kent (Joshua Seidner) is the lone straight one, and he's primarily concerned with being paid for putting his life on the line.

We never really get to know any of them, though Seidner's nervous, tic-laden energy suggests he's determined to make Kent more than the doomed, token hetero who's gotten mixed up with the wrong people for the right reasons. Audrey Amey brings some refreshing understatement to a husky lesbian and Lesley Miller utterly convinces as a mentally handicapped young woman obsessed with mashed potatoes, but neither actress is given much of consequence to do or say.

They may be the lucky ones. Every actor with a heavy line load embarrasses himself sooner or later: Walt (Tom Macy), a nerd because he's wearing glasses, talks about how he got caught having sex in an office closet; about "breeders," Russ bellows, "They should all fucking burn"; Jon, in one of his more contemplative moments, ponders, "That's what insanity is: when you hear your own thoughts too loudly." This makes it difficult to take seriously much of what Aumiller says.

That might benefit him, actually - there are times he comes dangerously close to advocating his characters' behavior, and that won't sit well with everyone who sympathizes with his concerns. If this lessens the play's credibility, Marc Janowitz helps compensate for it with set and lighting designs eerily evoking an abandoned wasteland of an apartment in which the story can play out. And whoever had the idea to crank up the pre-show air conditioning so high also helps establish the appropriately frigid atmosphere. Ideally, though, Aumiller's attempts to heat things up wouldn't leave you just as cold.


Temple
Through March 11
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission
Manhattan Theatre Source, 177 MacDougal Street between 5th and 6th Avenues, off of 8th Street
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: Theatermania