Produced by: American Conservatory Theatre
Directed by: Irene Lewis
Featuring: Renè Augesen, Tom Bloom, Rebekah Brockman, Anthony Fusco, George Hampe and Sharon Lockwood
When: February 28 through March 24, 2013
Where: A.C.T.'s Geary Theater, 415 Geary Street, San Francisco, California
Tickets: $20-$95. Call 415-749-2228 or visit act-sf.org.
is a lively mirror of our times
The American Conservatory Theater production of George F. Walker's "Dead Metaphor" begins in lighthearted laughter and concludes with a breathless audience sitting on the edge of their seats.
As the play unfolds, the characters all become metaphors, shifting and changing in orbits like planets around the sun.
The clever climax leaves the audience with a simple question: Which metaphor is dead?
It is a dark comedy for our times, an analogy of the real-life drama that vets face all across America, and perhaps the world.
Dean Trask, played by George Hampe in his debut with A.C.T., is a sniper who is returning home from combat. Haunted by nightmares, he hides his own problems behind a sunny demeanor during an interview with Oliver Denny, a government job counselor trying to help Dean find a job.
Dean's pregnant ex-wife, Jenny Trask, portrayed skillfully by Rebekah Brockman, is a self-centered, myopic woman who is eager to remarry Dean. Jenny's attitude reflects America's distant relationship to military culture. Her character seems to be unable to understand sacrifice, and Dean is frustrated by Jenny's inability to understand him. He is a sniper; a trained killer who is dedicated to honesty and fidelity.
After his hilarious interview with Oliver, Dean finds employment as a political poster boy with Helen Denny, Oliver's wife. Helen, played by Renè Augesen, who puts in a very fine performance. Helen is a caricature of today's right wing in America.
The story turns when Dean witnesses a shady political deal and becomes a liability for Helen, who seeks a way to get rid of Dean.
Dean's father, Hank Trask, played by Tom Bloom, is suffering from dementia brought on by a terminal brain tumor. His profane performance as a senior citizen almost stole the show. He despises Helen Denny, and their interactions on the stage crackled with tension.
Hank's devoted wife and Dean's mother, Fannie, is played by Sharon Lockwood. Her portrayal of a delicate, hard-nosed woman touched everyone in the audience. Each time she was on the stage she appeared totally devoted to Hank.
In one poignant scene, they have a discussion about Hank's disease, and it becomes clear that Hank's love for his wife is just as strong as it ever was. He may be losing his mind, but Hank's heart is as big as ever.
In the last scene before intermission, Hank Trask asks his son, Dean, for a terrible favor. The last thing Hank wants to be is a burden and as he walks away, he leaves Dean alone on the stage, transfixed. It is the first deep glimpse into Dean's soul, a moment when, to his horror, he is finally appreciated for what he has become.
Christopher Barreca is responsible for the deceivingly simple set design. The stage at first resembles a puzzle: a bench, an office desk, a couple of chairs, a barbecue, lawn furniture. It is all set in concentric circles that move in different directions during scene changes. The actors, props, lights and shadows orbit around one another in such a way as to mimic the chaos found in life. Desks moved in one direction, and benches in another. Actors moved past each other without a word.
Audio cues help the audience know what's going on. Throughout, the impression is that being in the midst of life. Llighting provided a subtle backdrop to the tension as it builds during the play. Thanks to the direction by Irene Lewis, the pacing served as a thread that bound the comedic and suspenseful elements of the story.
Dean is not a casualty of war. Dean is a vibrant, hopeful man, who does not suffer from the visible effects of PTSD. His problems stem from how society sees and perceives him. His honesty dooms his chances of getting a real job. He settles for the best he can get, but when an opportunity arises, he seizes it. Dean's character is very emotional, and Hampe's stage presence and body language, and skillful stage blocking, convey complex feelings.
Renè Augesen's performance as the politician Helen Denny was the embodiment of evil. Her appearance in church, wearing a red dress with a white blouse, left no doubt: she is the essence of wickedness.
The only slight flaw to be found in this production was Helen's hatred for her daughter, who is never seen on stage. Even hard-line conservative warmongers like Dick Cheney have a soft spot for their children. It's the only element of the story that was unrealistic. Nevertheless, Helen's dialogue was snappy and her dry delivery evoked peals of laughter.
"Dead Metaphor" is a living mirror of the times in which we live. As the play comes to a close, the audience is left with nagging questions that will provide for ongoing, interesting conversations.
It is a show well worth seeing.