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Michael Lombardi and Ann Carr in Ellipsis
(Photo: © Tish Williamson)
There are varied perspectives on the question of artistically representing the events of September 11th, as might be expected. Many feel that insufficient time has passed, and that one year later attempts to address that day would be knee-jerk at best, opportunistic at worst. The short plays presented by The Open Gate Human Rights Theater under the collective name Unresolved acknowledge this problem in that title. A few of them acknowledge it in their sensitive writing and presentation. Most of the others seem to require the benefit of more time and insight before they might yield what one hopes for and needs from work on this subject. The Open Gate's other productions, including an Arthur Miller play based on the work of Czech dissident Vaclav Havel, and a presentation of a play by a human rights lawyer jailed for life in Turkey, suggest sincerity and dedication on the part of Artistic Director R. David Robinson. Matching these qualities with the wisdom and artistry to address tragedy in art is much more rare, but to remain culturally vital, this is a burden the arts must take on.

The evening begins with Ellipsis, by Steven Fechter. In it, Paul (Michael J. Lombardi) is preparing to go to work downtown on the fateful morning, while his wife Helen (Ann Carr) makes painful efforts to discuss their marital problems in ways that ultimately lead to regret because of their sharpness, and timing. We quickly realize that what we're seeing is a replay of these moments in Helen's head, as Paul says "back" or "forward" when the scene is repeated, each iteration an attempt by Helen to revise her approach to their talk. The concept is not as well-managed as it could have been by the playwright, keeping us at a distance from the couple, revealing their mutual tenderness too late in the piece to warm us up to their pairing. Lombardi does nice work as Paul, and Carr shows promise in her role, but Richard Mover's direction cannot provide shadings that the script has not.

The best piece of the evening comes next with Floating World by Laren Stover, whose success as a fiction writer serves her well in this one-woman piece which is extremely well-acted by Patricia Randell. Composed of a series of negations that generally have nothing to do with the tragic events, ("I do not subscribe to the Paris Review. But I've always wanted to be published there. How do you get in there?") this approach gives us the strangely personal detail and oblique angle from which to view the personal consequences of the tragedy. As her statements begin to include more specifics from the tragic day, Randell seems to embody her nameless character, whose view of the world does not include many other people besides her handsome financial advisor whose attentions she craves. Her narrow focus provides us an example, haunting because of its subtle accuracy, of the solipcism and selfishness that governed many of us before our world exploded, and continues to do so.

A piece with some potential but an enormous identity crisis, Rosen's Son brings lauded playwright Joe Pintauro's dramatic pedigree to bear on the topic. Mr. Rosen arrives at a dinner party on the Upper West Side to confront Eddie, his son's former lover. Mr. Rosen's son died recently, and Eddie's new lover Harrison has moved in two months later. Mr. Rosen has arrived with a gun, threatening to kill himself. Mr. Rosen is a Holocaust survivor. If this sounds like too much to bite off in a short play, it is. If it sounds contrived, it did to several others in the theater as well. Pintauro's play was written in 1989, which makes it a statement about loss in a broad sense, but its presentation here associates it with other events, muddling a difficult evening with an unsuccessful work that takes on too much already. This piece is reasonably well directed by Mr. Mover, whose performance in it as Mr. Rosen works far better than the accent he uses. Eric D'Entrone gives us one of the evening's moments of power when his Eddie is reduced to tears by Rosen, and Nathan Cline does his best as a character who insists Eddie's attentions should favor a dinner party to the father of a dead lover.

Next up we have another play by a widely praised playwright, Romulus Linney, whose actress daughter Laura is becoming better known than he is. In Coda, four people who have passed away reflect on what they remember and do not. The piece is absorbing, at times a bit slow-moving, but is the most poetic of the evening, providing a lyrical balm for the more blunt approaches to dramatizing the issues we encounter. All the actors do good work, including Lombardi again as Young Man, Alice Gold as Older Woman, Ann Farrar as Young Woman, and Allan Mirchin, whose voice and stage presence makes one wish he had seen more of him in another piece. The lighting for this piece was well-handled by Ray Thys. The works gently haunts us, but one wishes its conception of the afterlife had been more imaginative or risk-taking, which could have made the piece in turn more engaging and moving.

Michael Lombardi, Alice Gold, Ann Farrar, and
Allan Mirchin in Romulus Linney’s Coda
(Photo: © Tish Williamson)
Bless Me, Father puts us in a confessional, offering a surprising but fairly accurate (in my experience) depiction of a helpful Catholic priest doing his best to soothe a confessor whose pain blocks her from opening up initially. Jeff Baron's ear for dialogue is praiseworthy, and his unadorned approach to the exchange between Erik Sherr's Priest and Wendy Bilton's widow of a fireman draws us in inexorably. Her confession of guilty feelings at the attention and support she's received after his demise is highlighted by her revelation that her ex-husband was not perfect, nor was she. The burden of being simply human when the nation is looking for heroes is an insightful topic, and it's handled carefully until the close of the piece, when her final admission is not as shocking as the playwright believes, diluting its impact. The pacing of this piece is impeccable, attributable one believes to Richard Mover at the directorial helm, but effortlessly sustained by the two fine actors onstage.

The show's final piece, Cocooning, is intended as comic relief, but never fully manifests comedy or pathos. Tosh, played by the evening's director, has holed up in his apartment, canceled his cable television, and not left for three months. Keith has come to his apartment and found, after what one hopes were many other attempts, that Tosh is not only alive, but will open the door. The disappearance of a friend or family member for that amount of time, even (as is the case here) months after September 11, would have been cause for police involvement. But we put aside logic, and attempt to enjoy the humor as Tosh listens to Keith rant about the state of the world, arriving eventually in a panic that turns Tosh into the advocate of getting out into the world, and Keith into the agoraphobic. The Open Gate's Artistic Director R. David Robinson plays Keith in this piece he wrote with some spark of comic ability, but never fully brings it off either in the script or the performance.

After an evening like this, we could use some comedy, especially something well-pitched, human, and heartfelt. The show only runs about ninety minutes, without intermission, and does not feel like a burden to watch. Overall one admires the group for attempting something difficult and controversial with sincerity. In its mission, The Open Gate seems to face the same difficulty its artists do -- to grapple with a new political and human reality that requires prompt action, but considered, thoughtful investigation and sensitivity as well. At the least, the impact of Unresolved remains just as it promises -- nothing definitive, but a flawed starting point, which can suggest what to do and what not to when addressing these topics on stage.

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