Lee Pace and Ana Reeder in Small Tragedy(Photo © Joan Marcus)
Lee Pace and Ana Reeder in Small Tragedy
(Photo © Joan Marcus)
The most provocative play of the season, Craig Lucas's Small Tragedy at Playwrights Horizons, is a breathtaking piece of writing. Sometimes ungainly and a bit misshapen, it is nonetheless so intellectually compelling that its flaws somehow highlight its impressive ambition. Lucas has written a truly modern work that builds on the verities of the ancient Greeks. He has done so with philosophical (not to mention theatrical) rigor, giving us a play with humor that arises from character and characters that spring from real life. Imaginatively directed by Mark Wing-Davey, it's a simmering stew that begins like Waiting for Guffman and ends like -- well, you should see it and find out for yourself.

The story centers on a group of actors in a production of a new adaptation of Oedipus Rex in Cambridge, Massachusetts. When we first meet them, they are auditioning for the director, Nathaniel (Rob Campbell) and a woman named Paola (Mary Schultz), whom we later learn is his co-director and girlfriend. In the midst of a hilarious but loving sendup of actors' insecurities and directorial hubris, the seeds of the serious drama that will darkly flower later on are carefully planted.

The four actors who join the company are all recognizable types but they are drawn with such humanity that they come to life as real, engagingly imperfect people. There is the wounded but genuinely talented Jen (Ana Reeder), who wears her emotions on her sleeve; she is also our narrator. Her best friend/roommate Fanny (Rosemarie DeWitt) is needy, self-destructive, and honest to a fault. The memorably nicknamed Christmas (Daniel Eric Gold) is a young pup who is so eager that he constantly (and comically) gets in his own way. And finally there is the mysterious Hakija (Lee Pace), a commanding, natural actor who comes from Bosnia -- a land that has known much tragedy.

Lucas skillfully reveals theatrical parallels between the Greeks' ideas of tragedy and our own ways of dealing with life's disasters. He does go maddeningly wrong in one scene in which he has his characters play a "truth game" to help propel his plot; it's such a cliché that one can only begin to imagine how blocked Lucas must have been when he tried to shift the play from comedy into tragedy. Nonetheless, he gets us to a finale that is theatrically stunning and leaves us with a stark moral challenge. This is real theater.

********************

Savvy Savvas

Carol Savvas
Carol Savvas
Speaking of the Greeks: Carol Savvas, a cabaret artist who makes a very big deal about being Greek, came across as a sophisticated saloon singer in her recent stint at Mama Rose. The show was called The Windmills of Your Mind and it featured some wonderfully creative arrangements by her pianist-musical director, Rick Jensen; for instance, the pairing of Dick Gallagher's "When I Come Back" with the Rodgers and Hart classic "Where or When" was inspired.

The exotically pretty Savvas used self-deprecating tales about her love life to set up an eclectic mix of standards and newer tunes. Her voice is limited in terms of range but she has a husky, pleasing sound when singing within her comfort zone.

********************

[To contact the Siegels directly, e-mail them at siegelentertainment@msn.com.]