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October 11, 2012

Review: Single Carrot presents politically charged play by Caryl Churchill

It's quite the political season onstage in Baltimore. Two plays provide extremely different experiences while striking a few of the same chords about government, corruption, duplicity.

"An Enemy of the People," the vintage Ibsen/Miller drama at Center Stage, takes a couple hours-plus and lots of long paragraphs to make its loaded points. Over at Single Carrot Theatre (it's temporary MICA home, that is), Caryl Churchill's "Drunk Enough to Say I Love You?" from 2006 packs its hefty sermonizing into about 45 minutes of single words and sentence fragments.

Neither work is entirely satisfying in structure and content, and both tend to hammer their points heavily. But the compact, two-character Churchill piece does so in a most intriguing manner, adding a layer of sexuality to the discourse.

The playwright focuses on -- takes aim at, most of the time -- the United States and its policies, using a character named Sam (as in Uncle) as a stand-in. Another man, called Jack in the first version of the play, leaves his wife and children to live with Sam.

Concerned that audiences envisioned the play as a reference to ...

the bromance between George W. Bush and Tony Blair (remember that?), Churchill changed Jack -- easily associated with Union Jack -- to Guy. In this version, the play reached New York in 2008.

The essential element of one man's love affair with America, which becomes the inevitably dominant partner in the relationship, remains the same. The odd mix of elements at work here produce some fascinating exchanges, like this one, alternating between Guy and Sam:

love it when you say

most destructive power ever in the history of the

yes yes

and now space

stars

eternity filled with our

love you so

more and more

The Single Carrot production, directed with a vivid touch by Ben Hoover, seizes on the sensual element in all of this. There is nothing coy about the depiction of these two men, no attempt to keep everything on some heady, symbolic plane. Sam (Elliott Rauh) and Guy (Dustin C. T. Morris) are all over each other from the start.

The whole progression of an affair -- from being easily physical to easily hurt and back again -- unfolds in telling detail, played out on a simple set. And several lines that might pass by innocently enough (not that there's a totally innocent line in this sparse text) get the most suggestive reading possible.

But the sexual tension in the play is a ruse, a disguise for the main business of dissecting American foreign policy, especially relations with dictatorships around the world.

In staccato, often graphically descriptive bursts of dialogue, several decades' worth of events are conjured up, from Vietnam to Libya (Churchill could not have known when she wrote this how some of phrases, such as "explosion at the embassy" or "Afghanis turned against us after all we," would carry so much additional weight today).

Rauh and Morris are admirably adept at the play's distinctive patter, where thoughts need only be partially expressed by one character and finished by the other. This process could come off as a pretentious word-association game, but the actors achieve an easy, natural flow with it.

They also put across the relationship element with equally impressive nuance. Rauh vibrantly captures the seductive, controlling side of Sam. Morris nails Guy's jumbled bursts of doubt, guilt and puppy-like determination to please.

There are some strong visual images along the way -- Rauh, alone onstage, reciting an angry litany of torture practices as he furiously slices a couple of carrots; Morris constructing two piles of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that seem of no consequence at all, until the phrase "no no no the towers" is suddenly spoken.

"Drunk Enough to Say I Love You?" runs through Oct. 21. The first several performances were at MICA's Brown Center; the show moves Friday to MICA's Studio Center.

PHOTOS BY BRITT OLSEN-ECKER

 

Posted by Tim Smith at 3:01 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens, Single Carrot Theatre
        

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at baltimoresun.com/artsmash. This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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