The October Crisis (to laura)
nytheatre.com review by David DelGrosso
August 8, 2008
The October Crisis (to laura) is a small story of family reconciliation set against a backdrop of larger-than-life locations and events. In 1945, a talented but only modestly successful jazz singer named Laura Parker is promised a breakthrough job in Cuba. Laura's husband, just back from the war, is staying behind, and their young son Stevie is coming with her. Once in Cuba, Laura learns that the opportunity is not a big break for her, but rather for a new figure invented by the promoter named Marguerite Stone. And Marguerite Stone, it seems, does not go onstage wearing a wedding ring, and does not tour Cuba with a young son in tow. So in 1945, Laura Parker leaves her family behind and Marguerite Stone is born.
In 1962, Stevie Parker's father makes a deathbed confession that his missing mother is, in fact, the famous singer Marguerite Stone. Stevie, now in his early 20s and in the midst of finding his sexual identity, struggles to find the courage to confront his mother and to get past his mother's live-in lover/manager who would keep them apart.
The forces that are keeping mother and son apart are from the past, but unfortunately many of the plays scenes feel too concerned with the past and not sufficiently motivated by the present. Playwright Alejandro Morales has created characters with rich histories, but too often scenes between characters are filled with facts and statements that sound more like information for the audience than an attempt to affect the person they are speaking to. At times, whole scenes had the matter-of-fact feel of a biography, included because they had to be, rather than feeling viable as drama. The Cuban Missile Crisis of the play's title, which is happening at the same time as the mother and son drama, feels tacked on, and never seems to really affect the way the characters are behaving, nor does it develop as a metaphor. If anything, choosing that particular time in history for the story ends up making the mother and son reconciliation feel trivial by comparison.
While there were times that the play lost me, the production is confident and impressive. I would like to particularly compliment costume designer Kate Rusek, whose work not only captures the time periods of the play but also expresses the individual characters very well. The talented cast is led by Gayton Scott as Marguerite Stone, who is excellent in portraying both the self-love and deep regret of the character. Some of Stone's lines have a larger-than-life, Norma Desmond ring to them, and could have fallen into camp, but Scott keeps the character firmly grounded and believable. In a device to make the distinction between Laura Parker and Marguerite Stone abundantly clear, the play splits the life into two roles for two actresses. While director Scott Ebersold makes great use of this device in having these two versions of the same woman watch or mirror each other, I think it would be more affecting to watch one actress actually go through the transformation from Parker to Stone, which would make for a very meaty, single role, and might help give the play a stronger throughline. In its current incarnation, October Crisis feels like it may have too many layers of storytelling going on at once, and might benefit from less.