Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: New Jersey

Spain Re-develops at Playwrights Theatre

also see Bob's review of The Loman Family Picnic

Natalie Wilder and
Phillip F. Lynch

There are very brave people at Playwrights Theatre in Madison. How else would they dare devote themselves exclusively to developing new plays with both full productions and a plethora of readings, staged and otherwise? Being unable to boost their subscriptions or single ticket sales with any proven, "surefire" popular attractions, they clearly are out there flying without a net.

Therefore, despite a really strong effort by director John Pietrowski to breathe life into Spain, an absurd new comedy by Jim Knable, by staging it in the round with bright lighting and a sense of airy spaciousness, there is just very little in the writing to hold our interest.

Barbara, an attractive young woman whose husband has left her for a younger gal with a "boob job," is fulminating in her Washington, D.C. apartment when a 16th century Spanish Conquistador materializes. It seems Barbara has an obsession with the culture of Spain.

Despite Pietrowski's description of the work as a metaphysical comedy, there seems nothing metaphysical here. What we immediately know is that this blustering figure in armor and any other non-contemporary character who will be introduced will be a figment of Barbara's imagination, a dream or dreamlike hallucination.

Her visitor is a comedic figure who doesn't know how he has come to speak English. However, he is big on rape and murder. In time, he reveals that his name is El Tigre (the tiger). He produces a "Mayan Ancient" who confirms his pedigree with a couple of deadly dull and contradictory stories about "passing through a portal" into contemporary D.C. It really is nothing to worry about, because what you see is not what you get, and it will change over the course of the play.

I could not discern any growth in Barbara nor could I uncover any clues to understanding her from the figments of her imagination which occupy most of play's mercifully brief running time. When more contemporary visions entered the scene, I did sometimes prematurely wonder whether figments were being replaced by reality, but I was rarely amused and never engaged.

The eager cast acquits itself well. Kristin Johansen is a slightly daft, likeable Barbara. Chris Tomaino is game in two variations of her Spanish knight. Angela Della Ventura is quite engaging and shows good range in several of her smaller roles. Her male Ancient was not for me. Natalie Wilder as Diversion (don't ask) performs well throughout.

The on-stage hero of the evening is Philip F. Lynch. He performs a couple of varied roles (including Barbara's husband) well and provides the most enjoyable moments of the evening with his playing of what sounds like traditional melodic Spanish guitar music. It was a pleasure to note in the program that Lynch composed original music for the evening.

This co-production with the New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch arrives directly from its run at NJRC. The play was originally produced a couple of seasons back by the Woolly Mammoth Theatre in Washington. Author Knable felt that he needed to do further developmental work on the play. He found that it is harder to get a work in development a second production than a first. Pietrowski confirms this and states that he feels PTNJ should function as an additional port of call in such situations - another admirable mission for an admirable theatre.

Spain continues performances through October 5 at Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey, 33 Green Village Road, Madison, NJ 07940. 973-514-1787, ext. 30; on-line

Spain by Jim Knable; directed by John Pietrowski; Cast (in order of appearance): Kristin Johansen (Barbara); Chris Tomaino (Conquistador); Angela Della Ventura (Ancient); Natalie Wilder (Diversion); Philip F. Lynch (John)

Photo: SuzAnne Barabas

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Bob Rendell

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