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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Drifting Elegant Is an Indistinct Drama with Excellent Acting

Also see Richard's reviews of Treasure Island and Master Class

It's All True
Darren Bridgett and
Michael Gene Sullivan

Stephen Belber's Drifting Elegant is having its world premiere as part of The Hot House series of rotating plays in repertory playing on the Magic Theatre stage through June 20th. Playwright Belber is best known for his drama Tape, which played off Broadway and was made into a film. His Match just closed on Broadway. He was also one of the lead writers on The Laramie Project.

Drifting Elegant had a workshop production on May 29th, 2002, at the Kennedy Center for New American Plays. It is still a work in progress and needs better characterizations. The best fully developed character is the freelance journalist Nate Jamison.

Belber's play interlaces the stories of four persons fraught with issues of moral choices and personal responsibility. Nate, a journalist who recently spent several years in Africa, has returned to the States to become a freelance writer. His passion is his words, the method by which he loves to explore life. The mid 30s white American male's career has been wallowing for a year.

Nate now has a chance to profile Jordanian-born rapist Victor Saad, (Harry Dillon) just released from prison after his victim confesses that a rape did not occur. The reporter's problem is that the victim, Elizabeth (not in the production), was his fellow worker and possibly a former sex partner. Elizabeth exonerated Victor before dying of cancer. Nate now now has to write a balanced portrait of this person and the big question is, can he be neutral in his portrayal?

Nate is having an ambivalent relationship with his wife Jen (Barbara Pitts). She is a woman whose life goal is to achieve clarity. She detests self-delusion and attempts to avoid melodrama at all cost. She is a white American female who owns a valuable piece of property that will become a subdivision for middle income African American families who want to escape from inner city life. Her business partner, Renny Lyles (Michael Gene Sullivan), is a smooth-talking, fashion-conscious African American businessman with a hyperactive soul. He has a remarkable way with words, reflecting a highly rational thought process. Part of his game is an act, and he is the kind of guy that could sell refrigerators to Eskimos.

Drifting Elegant is a two-act drama dealing with questions of the trust, honesty, fidelity, cultural bias and self interest of each of the four characters. There are many vague theoretical arguments throughout the play that could be trimmed. Some of the relationships are very shadowy, especially Nate's gradual friendship with Victor. Even Nate's friendship with Renny is somewhat strange since each have opposite points of view on everything. Also, it is unclear what the relationship is between Nate's wife and Renny. Renny most certainly is flirting with Jen throughout the play.

Darren Bridgett (has received eight Dean Goodman awards over the years) once again proves he is one of the most natural actors in the Bay Area. His character is fully developed as a charming and articulate wordsmith. His speech has wonderful degrees of disturbance, and his articulation is perfect. Michael Gene Sullivan (Anyone Ever Tell You - You Look Like Huey P Newton? in New York and Vancouver Fringe festivals) gives his character great charm and he has a sophisticated style as a confirmed optimist. He is excellent in his theoretical discussions with Nate. Especially interesting is their academic discussion while they throw a basketball to each other on this very small three-sided stage. (As far I know, they have never missed catching the ball which could have hit audience members who are just inches from the actors).

Harry Dillon as the exonerated rapist gives a solid performance, first as very tight-lipped character in the first act. He subtly portrays a person who is observant and calculating in the second act. Barbara Pitts give a fluent performance as the wife.

Amy Glazer's direction is crisp and tight, and Jeff Rowling's set of the living room of the couple is a typical midwestern living room.

Drifting Elegant is running in repertory with 13 Hallucinations of Julio Rivera and Relativity. All three World Premier Plays run through June 20 at the Magic Theatre, Ft Mason, San Francisco. For times and dates of these plays please go to www.magictheatre.org For tickets call 415-441-8822.


Photo: Bill Faulkner


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


- Richard Connema



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