Fairfield Theatre Company, Fairfield
Fairfield Theatre Company's newest offering, "The Internationalist," now at the theater's downtown venue, is a disturbing, provocative drama. Billed as a mysterious comedy, it is indeed a combination of both genres - a mystery in its unanswered questions, but highly comic as well.
Lowell, a young American, arrives in a foreign airport, presumably a European country, to be met by a young woman, a native of that country. He has been summoned to lend his expertise to the business activities of a foreign company. Or is it a government agency? What country? What language? What kind of business?
The young man hardly knows where he is-or what he is called upon to provide. He is constantly rattled, confused. "Jet lag," he keeps saying, offering the phrase by way of explanation. But "jet lag" is the least of his problems. He is confronted by people who frequently launch into an incomprehensible foreign tongue (though they are perfectly capable of speaking English).
We viewers are even more in the dark. Yet there is a steadily menacing, chaotic ambience which comes across. One is reminded of a Pinter drama or a Kafka novel, where characters are threatened by unknown dangers and overwhelming forces. At the same time, playwright Anne Washburn has created hilarious moments, as her characters exchange thoughts in what is apparently gobble-de-gook-a wonderfully made-up language she seems to have created that might easily be Serbo-Croat or Albanian or Hungarian. Granted that Washburn lets the foreign-language exchange go on far too long, since we get the joke quickly, and she need not milk it to that degree.
But Washburn's theme is clear, her point well taken. It is that Americans venture into foreign lands, bringing their own skills, good will, and naivete, but lacking any knowledge of the foreign culture. "It was so sudden; I didn't have time to prepare…no phrase book," Lowell keeps explaining to any one who will listen. One can draw the parallel to our own current involvement in Iraq, and indeed that may be what Washburn has in mind.
In this excellent production, director Ken Rus Schmoll has assembled a fine small cast. That these actors manage to speak the "language" Washburn has concocted, while making their dialogue full of believable emotions, is remarkable. And of course very, very funny.
Washburn is a unique new voice in contemporary theater. But "The Internationalist" is so offbeat in style and substance that it certainly will not be to every one's taste. One thinks of the piece playing in a remote venue in Manhattan's downtown area, rather than the heart of Fairfield. How this piece will be received by FTC playgoers is any one's guess.
-- Irene Backalenick
Aug. 14, 2004