Reviewed by Deborah Klugman
Son of Semele Ensemble
Through June 18
In Archipelago, Caridad Svinch spins a love story about a man and a woman from two different cultures, and sets it against a backdrop of war and apocalyptic upheaval. Director Barbara Kallir oversees an attractive and imaginative staging, but the vagueness of the play’s dramatic events and the absence of detail in the characters’ accounts of themselves make for an enervating narrative. A skilled performance can often compensate for what’s missing in a text, but in this case a shaky performance compounds the problem.
Svinch’s lovers are B (Michael Evans Lopez) and H (Sarah Rosenberg) who are bound by their physical attraction but keep breaking up, mostly due to fits of pique on the part of H — the source of which is never really made clear. Years lapse between their various encounters, which usually come about by chance. Their dialogue often references the past (but never with great specificity) or revolves around professions of love and desire, mostly from B.
The drama finally intensifies when H drifts to a place where war is ongoing and misery and terror abound. It turns out this is the home of B, and only at this point does the cultural gulf between them become apparent: she is a relatively privileged Westerner, while he is from a Third World country where people die for speaking their mind. After he is shot and falls into a coma, she’s forced to confront the limitations of her love and compassion.
Here we have a very salient theme, but unfortunately the shallowness of the character and of Rosenberg’s portrayal spill into each other, and it’s hard to care. The play turns on the intensity of the duo’s physical attraction, but the chemistry isn’t palpable. Lopez, on his own, is more successful depicting a vulnerable man who survives with sadness.
Among the striking elements of the production are John Noburi’s original music and sound, which create the haunting aural ambience. Meg Cunningham’s set, with its gossamer curtains, Katerina Pagsolingan’s videography, and Alexander Le Vaillant Freer’s lighting blend to suggest a world of melancholy shadows that the piece strives, not always successfully, to convey.
Son of Semele Theatre, 3301 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun. 5 p.m.; Mon., 7 p.m.; through June 18. (213) 351-3507. http://sonofsemele.org Running time: 80 minutes with no intermission.