Regional Reviews: San Francisco
West Coast Premiere of
The New Conservatory Theatre Center, as part of its Pride Season 8 series called Contents Under Pressure, is presenting the west coast premiere of Norman Allen's erotic drama In the Garden. I believe this is only the second time that this drama has been presented. The play was the winner of the Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding New Play when it premiered at the prestigious Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia in March of 2001. The D.C. newspapers gave it good reviews, with the Press stating it was "a delicious bite of the apple," referring to the Bible story of Adam and Eve. The Washington Blade said "it glows with intelligence ... cracking dialogue.
The plot centers around five urban sophisticates whose world is rocked by the arrival of a teenaged young man. He has charismatic powers that are grounded in an obsession with the New Testament and its lessons. This young man is something of a Christ character who changes the lives of four materialistic wealthy persons. These four characters struggle to keep pace on their own personal rocky roads and seek sexual encounters to fill the void of living. They soon become addicted to this, and it becomes a sedative of sorts.
The drama begins with Gabe (Brian Trybom), a very intelligent young student, in bed with his philosophy professor John (Kalli Johnson). Gabe gets around, and he is soon bedded by John's wife Muriel (Stephanie Paul) and John's best friend Walter (Durand Ford). This becomes a roundelay of sorts as Gabe expounds on living like St Francis of Assisi. He lives in the park so he could be considered "homeless," wears dirty wornout jeans and a tee-shirt that has seen better days. The only money he has is from hustling since he does take money for his sexual proclivities. However, he says the money is only incidental since he likes sex with both men and women.
Gabe is an enigma, appearing Christ-like while searching for his own inner peace in the Bible. He quotes both Old and New Testaments, and there is a lot of dialogue about this between John and Gabe. In fact, there are a lot of quotations coming out the mouths of the actors including writings of other philosophical giants. The ending, which I won't divulge, is also very Christ-like.
Most of the dialogue consists of normal conversations among the characters, which sometimes is very hard to hear. Some of the actors do not project past the first or second row of this small band box theater. It is as if they are just talking to each other without any consideration for the audience. It also takes a long while for anyone to warm up to any of the characters. One of the interesting aspects of the drama is the changing of scenes throughout the two hour production. The scenes flow into each other - for example, one character such as Gabe is talking to John, then Gabe walks off the stage as Muriel comes walking into the scene and the conversation just continues without any jagged cut. The play is filled with passion, obsession and spiritual inquiry, which is a pretty tall order for such a fast paced production Director Christopher Jenkins has done an excellent job in giving us a very smooth production.
Jenkins has assembled a good cast of five persons with Brian Trybom outstanding as Gabe. He runs around the stage naked most of the time, but somehow portrays a young man who could be a modern day Christ. His last scene is exceptional. Kalli Johnson gives a good performance as the professor of philosophy. His interaction with all of the characters is admirable. Megan Towle as Lizzie is very good in her smaller role. I had a hard time hearing Stephanie Paul as Muriel since she was not projecting her words to the audience. There was a lot of slurring of words and as a result, some of her conversations were lost on the audience. Durand Ford as Walter plays the character as a rough and tumble wealthy person who really is an ego driven individual. He would be considered an asshole in some circles.
The play does get preachy at times, especially in the first act, but it is thought provoking with some comic relief. The drama plays through March 30 at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-861-8972 or on line at www.nctcsf.org.