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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

See What I Wanna See

Also see Susan's review of Native Son and 2009 Helen Hayes Awards Report

See What I Wanna See
Channez McQuay and Bobby Smith
Michael John LaChiusa's musicals are an acquired taste, meticulously crafted but too complex to comprehend in a single viewing or hearing. See What I Wanna See, receiving its Washington area premiere in a beautifully intimate production at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, provides a lot of food for thought, but at times it's too ambiguous for its own good.

LaChiusa contributed music, lyrics and libretto to the three-part musical, which centers around nothing less than the nature of truth. He tells two complete stories and fragments of a third, using a talented five-member cast well directed by Matthew Gardiner.

The best part of the musical is the second act, Gloryday, which revolves around a New York City priest (Bobby Smith) who has lost his faith in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks. The plot concerns how faith, "proof of things not seen," builds upon hope and eventually creates its own reality. Smith is genuinely moving as he sets events in motion and sees them spiral out of his control. Channez McQuay sparkles as the priest's outspoken Aunt Monica, whose outspoken atheism shifts when she needs reassurance beyond what science and medicine can offer—her contrasting solos, "The Greatest Practical Joke" and "There Will Be A Miracle," are highlights.

The first act, R Shomon, builds to a slow boil but gives the audience no resolution to hold on to. LaChiusa bases the plot on the same short story by Ryunosuke Akutagawa that inspired the famous Japanese film Rashomon, although he moves the setting to 1951 New York City—actually, to the night of the film's American premiere. A man (Tom Zemon) has been found dead in Central Park, and the police are trying to get the story from a self-aggrandizing thief (Matt Pearson), the wife of the deceased (Rachel Zampelli) and a janitor (Smith), who stumbled on the corpse on his way home from work. McQuay is a medium who offers the testimony of the deceased.

Zemon, Zampelli and Pearson shine in this section as they act out the contradictory dramas in their statements. Who actually killed the man, and why? Was the encounter between the thief and the wife a violent rape or a willing seduction? It's all very interesting in a clinical way, but the audience could use a final, omniscient look at the incident that fuses together the individual perceptions.

Signature Theatre
See What I Wanna See
April 7th May 31st
Music, lyrics, and libretto by Michael John LaChiusa
Based on short stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, as translated by Takashi Kojima
The Medium and Aunt Monica: Channez McQuay
The Thief and A Reporter: Matt Pearson
The Janitor and A Priest: Bobby Smith
Kesa, The Wife and An Actress: Rachel Zampelli
Morito, The Husband and A CPA: Tom Zemon
Directed by Matthew Gardiner
Music direction by Jon Kalbfleisch
ARK Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave.
Arlington, VA 22206
Ticket Information: 703-820-9771 or 1-800-955-5566 or www.signature-theatre.org


Photo: Scott Suchman


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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