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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Andrew Bovell's Speaking in Tongues
Is a Provocative Drama

Also see Richard's review of two one acts: Taste of Heaven and Dooley

The Actor's Collective is presenting the west coast premiere of Australian playwright Andrew Bovell's provocative drama Speaking in Tongues at the Exit Theatre on Taylor in San Francisco. The drama was a big hit down under and was made into the highly successful Australian film Lantana. The current drama had its American premiere at the Roundabout Theatre on November 15, 2001. The New York Daily News called it "beguiling and absorbing."

Director Jon Drawbaugh has added an extra dimension to this production by displaying three television sets that are constantly going before and during the drama. The sets are supposed to reflect the emotions and background of what is going on onstage. Sometimes they can be a bit distracting. The play itself delves into the murky territory of intimacy and trust within relationships. It shows the darker sides of our emotional selves. This is a jigsaw of a play and there is no chronological order to the drama, which goes into an entirely different story in the second act. There are anecdotes by the actors that connect the two acts.

Four actors play nine characters and the drama swirls around the strangely interlocked fates of these characters. Leon (Kevin Rolston) and Pete (Daryl M. Lozupone) are unhappy husbands and Sonja (Gabrielle Fisher) and Jane (Karen Finch) are unhappy wives who have cheated on their husbands with each other's other spouse. After the couples have spit up, the wives meet each other in a bar and wouldn't you know it, the same thing happens to the husbands in a separate scene. It makes for some interesting conversation.

Leon delivers a long monologue to his returning wife about meeting an unhappy man on the beach while Jane regales her returning husband about her menacing suspicions about next door neighbor Nick. This becomes the main story in act two.

Some of the characters mentioned in the first act become the center of focus in the second act. Leon the police detective is the only character brought over from act one. The second act involves the strange disappearance of a psychological therapist Valerie (Karen Finch) with a patient named Sarah (Gabrielle Fisher). Nick (Kevin Rolston), who is talked about as Jane's neighbor in the first act, becomes the center of attention in the mystery. We get more information about each of them through a series of confessionals and interrogations in this convoluted act.

Playwright Bovell expresses it best when he says about his play, "It is an emotional labyrinth, it's like a tightly woven piece of fabric: take any two strands and follow them and you will end up in quite different places." This is indeed a strange play that demands your attention.

Speaking in Tongues boasts four fine actors in the various roles. Kevin Rolston (Off Broadway debut in Whose Family Values and the Magic Theatre's production of The Sex Habit of American Women) is splendid as Leon in both acts. He also adds a wonderful dimension as the low class Nick in the second act. Daryl M. Lozupone, who is new to the area after performing in many plays in the Washington D.C. area, does a creditable portrayal of the nervous Pete attempting illicit sex in the first act and the worrying husband of the missing Valerie in act two.

Female leads Karen Finch (recently in The Blue Room) and Gabrielle Fisher (many productions in the Bay Area) are top drawer in their dual roles. Karen has a little difficulty in projecting the key speech about the neighbor Nick in the first act. However, she is outstanding as Valerie in the second act.

Director Jon Drawbaugh makes this a multi-media event by installing three small screen television sets about the beige and desert-like set. (The setting is supposed to be in the upper tropical area of Australia). Sometimes the film on the screens distract from the actors. This was especially prevalent when Karen is giving her key scene about her suspicions of the neighbor Nick - the screens show an old black and white film on a '30s marathon dance and the audience's attention is directed more to the screens than to Karen. The TVs also run a soundless Australian tourist film at the beginning to get you into the mood of the down under continent.

Speaking in Tongues runs through February 14 at the Exit on Taylor, 277 Taylor between Eddy and Ellis in San Francisco. For tickets call 415-789-8221.

Their next production will be Rebecca Gilman's Boy Gets Girl, set to open on September 30 at The Phoenix Theatre.


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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