Ethnic Theater - Jewish
"On a Darkling Plain"
Turtle Shell Studio, Manhattan
While Norman Beim, a Jewish-American playwright, often focuses on Jewish themes, his work extends well into other areas. This time around, in “On a Darkling Plain,” he turns his skills to that political era so devastating to this country--specifically the 1950s McCarthy hearings.
Actually, Beim zooms in on the after-effects of those infamous proceedings, setting his play some twelve years later. As Beim explains, his play was inspired by the real-life reunion of Elia Kazan with Arthur Miller, for the production of Miller’s play, “After the Fall.”
In Beim’s play his central character is an actor named Guy, who cannot forgive George Makapolous (read: Elia Kazan) for betraying him and causing him to be blacklisted. As a result he has not performed for these many years, supporting himself instead as a cab-driver.
The conflict lies not only between the actor and the director, but within the actor himself. It is 1964, and George has just offered him a leading stage role. Should he grab this rare opportunity, or should he accept an offer to do television commercials (for a toilet paper product, no less!)? This second offer is personified by Jerry, an advertising copywriter. Adding to the fray is Guy’s wife Miriam, who wants him to take the lead in George’s play. She urges him to move on with his life, forgetting the past.
Although somewhat formulaic in feeling, Beim has indeed fashioned a well-made play. He does not succumb to flashbacks or dreams or soliloquies or examinations of subtexts, so popular in today’s writing. He has carefully laid out the conflict, moving the plot step by step through to its resolution. It is a straightforward piece, focusing on the conflict, but does offer interesting observations on the life of the actor.
It is often said that a writer should not direct his own play. How indeed does one separate the two roles? But this time around Beim manages to do both skillfully. He stages the piece nicely and keeps it moving at a lively clip, with a competent cast of four. Particularly convincing is Jon Freda, who plays George, and the scenes in which he appears are the strongest. But Tom Sminkey, Joan Barber and Bristol Pomeroy also turn in capable performances.
“On a Darkling Plain” runs off-Broadway through this month of January at the Turtle Shell Studios.
-- Irene Backalenick
Jan. 15, 2007