Thursday, October 11, 2007

Review- Cryptogram

Another review that i have to self-publish.

A Little Too Cryptic.

Windfall Theatre's production of Cryptogram, a challenging David Mamet play, succeeds in creating a compelling evening of theatre despite failing the play's intentions. I think. I'm not sure. I'm really not sure of much about this one, but I am giddy with the mystery.

See, Cryptogram is a puzzle. It's an experiment in bizarre exposition and storytelling in a specific and mostly opaque symbolic language. Everything in the play, from the seemingly random objects an insomniac child brings downstairs, to the old picture that his adult friend puzzles over repeatedly, to an old WWII pilot’s knife, is treated with symbolic importance. Eventually, it all comes together to tell a tale of betrayal and child abuse. Or maybe it's more of a tale of neglect, or maybe the kid is just suicidal. I'm not quite sure about how the betrayal works exactly either. It’s confusing.

Watching this play, one has a feeling that, like a puzzle, there is a specific solution, which should become crystal clear by the end of the final scene. This makes it a dangerous play. Audiences are easily lost and the slightest nuance can send the play in a wrong direction, and at the end of the night, I felt like I was looking at a completed puzzle that still seemed to be missing something.

The staging and acting was good enough that even though I didn't quite "get" the play, I very much enjoyed watching it. The three person cast crafted very nice three dimensional characters that interacted with chemistry and skill. Larry Birkett was wonderfully awkward and likeable until he deftly transitioned the character into a surprising yet believable antagonist. Young Avi Borouchoff’s performance showed some great instincts and real talent. Carol Zippel’s character was disarmingly rich and deep.

In other ways, the show didn’t quite make it. The blocking was frequently really awkward. The pacing was sometimes too slow for Mamet’s trademark frantic overlapping dialog, which robbed key moments of their intensity. Hopefully, as the run goes on they can tighten these things up. Also, maybe director Shawn Gulyas was feeding us red herrings, or his own interpretation, but some of the interactions and symbols were played wrong when compared with what I could find out about other productions. With a play that’s already as difficult to follow as this one, such things lead to excessive muddling and an entertained but unfulfilled audience.

Cryptogram continues at Village Church Arts, through Oct 13th.

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