Regional Reviews: New Jersey
When Something Wonderful Ends
Also see Bob's review of Open Admissions
Described in a blurb as a "one woman, one Barbie play", When Something Wonderful Ends takes place in the house in which Sherry Kramer was raised in Springfield, Missouri. Sherry has come to close up the house and prepare it for sale. Her father is relocating to an independent living facility. Sherry informs us that her mother died more than five years ago ("before 9/11"). Sherry spends much time dressing and redressing her near mint condition Barbie doll, and tells us more than we want to know about the doll, other Barbie dolls, the company, and doll clothes and other accoutrements. She also discourses on miracles (something involving the survival of flowers at her mother's grave) which I don't quite get given her dismissive attitude toward things metaphysical. Her account of being part of a reform Jewish family in a fundamental Baptist community yields a couple of uncohesive, but potentially interesting, stories and observations. Yet all these topics are just devices, cleverly employed though they sometimes may be, as none of them speaks to the true concerns of Kramer here.
Ignoring the undeniably manifold complexities of Middle Eastern history dating back to the early Christian Era and including the genesis of Islam, the Crusades, unending murderous tribal and religious wars, the ignorance and poverty imposed on the region by fundamentalist religious leaders and dictators, the world wide, still ongoing industrial revolution, and so much more, Kramer selectively and righteously strings together a number of events, always presented here as reflecting American greed and evil, to posit the idea that it is America and its actions in pursuit of oil that have turned Arab Muslim fundamentalists into suicidal mass killers of women and children.
Her arbitrary starting date is March 4, 1964. In the world of When Something Wonderful Ends, it was on that day that 12-year-old Sherry got her petrochemical constituted Barbie, and the United States imposed a castrating Status of Forces Act on Iran, placing prosecution of crimes committed by members of our military in the hands of American courts-martial. What Kramer fails to tells us is that such agreements were standard throughout the world among allies, and that our efforts in Iran were aimed at empowering their government. However, when some Iranians were struck and killed by American military drivers, forces within the country opposed to our ally, the Shah, exploited the incident as part of their campaign to establish a Shi'a fundamentalist regime.
I think that an economist should explain that when we produce food and sell or provide it to other nations, or when Middle Eastern oil is sold to the West, that the transaction usually is advantageous to all parties. Protecting such needed transactions against those who would prevent them is legitimate and necessary. On the other hand, I agree with Kramer that the profit motive (identified as greed in this play) will eventually lead to the develop.m.ent of new technologies which will bring resolution to this issue.
Yet, I must admit that I was fascinated with the theatrical cleverness with which Kramer takes off from SOFA and mixes facts (hey, we are an adroit/maladroit player in the devious international politics of the area), suppositions, interpretations, oversimplifications and further distortions to buttress her arguments.
I bristled with delight when the stage Sherry said, "Trust me, the research I did made it clear that plans to regime change Iraq were in the works before 9/11." Interestingly, the first two words of that quote are not in the copy of the script which I received. And can anyone really know what "in the works" means? Furthermore, Kramer has admitted that her entire argument may be fallacious. She states, "... when you're searching for a clear, unobstructed way to understand something, you tend to find it. And you just ignore facts that clutter up the view."
However, Kramer does not even distinguish fact from rhetoric. Although there are flaws in our democracy which place too much influence in the hands of the affluent few, how else can one account for the following: "The facts are these. We don't live in a democracy. We live in a petro-regime. Which wouldn't be so bad, except we live on the wrong side of it. We live at the bottom of the flow. And you do know what living at the bottom means." /p>
Bonnie Black maximizes the effectiveness of Sherry Kramer's lecture by delivering it to the audience in a smoothly ingratiating and reasonable sounding manner. Director John Pietrowski must be credited with having found the perfect tone and manner for her Sherry. The semi-abstract cluttered set distracts from the play itself. Put the blame on Kramer who has specified a fanciful set that might resemble a Barbie dream house. Included as part of the set is a screen upon which photographs and words are projected. Since all else here is in a realistic mode, so too should be the setting.
After the death of her mother, Kramer was forced to accept the fact that her mother would never return to her. Similarly, Kramer posits that we grow up, that the time for playing with Barbie dolls and enjoying the pleasures of cheap oil is gone forever and that we should learn to live without it. With When Something Wonderful Ends currently on its stage, Playwrights Theatre is a great place to be for all those who enjoy a good argument.
When Something Wonderful Ends continues performances (Fri. & Sat. 8 p.m./ Sun. 3 p.m. ; Thurs. Perfs: 4/26 5:30 p.m.;5/3 3 & 8 p.m.) through May 6, 2007 at Playwrights Theatre, 33 Green Village Road, Madison, NJ 07940; Box Office: 973-514-1787; online: www.ptnj.org.
When Something Wonderful Ends by Sherry Kramer; directed by John Pietrowski