Regional Reviews: San Francisco
The Bombay Trunk is Baffling
The New Conservatory Theatre Center's Pride 8 is presenting the world premiere of Felice Picano's mystery comedy The Bombay Trunk, running through December 15. It is a play within a play within a play, and it is supposed to be like a Bombay trunk, which has many little apparent and hidden drawers. The trunk is supposed to symbolize the many hidden aspects of the life of a dysfunctional family in crisis. The play has aspects of better plays and film, such as Deathwatch, Sleuth and Private Eyes, where nothing is what it seems.
The major difference here is that Picano tries to accomplish too much in a short piece of little over 2 hours with intermission. We have incest, transgender issues, jealousy, suicide, homosexual affairs and a possible murder; the result is a confusing and convoluting play that goes off the rails many times during the presentation. This is a shame, since there is the kernel of a good play among all the words that are thrown out at the audience.
Bombay Trunk opens in the rural Connecticut vacation home of famed mystery writer Jonathan Cavendish (Christian Heppinstall). The family consists of the unfaithful wife Judith (Tiffany Hoover), the egotist and narcissistic son Cas (Benjamin Privitt), the transvestite secretary of Jonathan, Arlen (Michelle Starrs), and assistant county sheriff Dab (Douglas Glorgis). The play opens like an old fashioned melodrama, reminiscent of of the tent shows that used to tour the Midwest's small towns. The cast has been directed to overact, grimace and slink around. Even Cas, who should have a twirling mustache, has a laugh like a villain from The Drunkard or East Lynne.
The first scene is really exhausting and eventually proves to be taking place somewhere else, and the characters prove to be not only in different relationships to each other, but also totally other than what they first, second or even thirdly seem to be. Confused? So was the audience, until the very last scene when everything is supposed to be cleared up. My, but it takes a long time to get to that point.
Director Clay David tries too many forms in this play as he lets the cast go from Pirandellian disquisition to Agatha Christie mystery to Noel Coward dialogue and finally a near Beckettian existentialism. There is really just too much to take in during the two hour production.
Bombay Trunk's cast settles down to become more natural actors in the second act. However, one jarring note is that Tiffany Hoover as Judith is just too young to have a grown up son such as Cas. It looks like she must have given birth at the age of five. It comes across that handsome Cas should be Judith's lover. There are more twist endings and layers in this act that completely baffle the audience. When a further twist appears at the end of the play, we just no longer care.
The Bombay Trunk plays through December 15 at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-8618972 and online at www.nctcsf.org. The next production will be the west coast premiere of Lee Blessing Thief River opening on January 8th.