The Golden Aurora
nytheatre.com review by Edward Elefterion
August 16, 2008
Steven Fechter's The Golden Aurora weaves several truly intriguing themes into a very intense and circuitous plot revolving around a man's romantic devotion to a dog. But though the human/canine love affair instigates the action, the play is more concerned with the human capacity for abuse and neglect. Both the script and the production suffer somewhat from a lack of focus, but the nature of the material is nonetheless compelling.
Cassandra is a show dog, breed: Golden Aurora. Ned is an aimless young man currently working as a vet's assistant. While on a walk together one afternoon, they fall in love. Of course, their affair has consequences. Ned's boss feels betrayed and confused as to why he wants an animal instead of her. Ned's mother utterly rejects him in favor of the greasy spoon that she runs, preferring to console her own aching heart by favoring intimacies with the various truckers who frequent her eatery over supporting her notorious son. Frank, Cassandra's owner, interprets the bestial affair as a threat to his manhood, as if his prize dog was cheating on him with another man, which is more truth than metaphor. Frank was abusing Cassandra by beating her with a wet rope and masturbating in her face. Frank's wife, Lynn, knows first-hand about Frank's relationship to Cassandra: she used to be the primary "object of his desire," and she still suffers from his wildly abusive alpha-male impulses when he feels the need to control her. She is as much his dog as Cassandra. And when she learns about Ned, when she sees how tormented her husband becomes over the affair, she quickly devises her own violent revenge.
Balancing this cruel world are equally universal emotions like those exemplified in the opening scene: Ned's lonely-hearted neighbor grieves over her soon-to-be-euthanized pet as if it were her spouse. The depth of her suffering is clear and believable, the empty hours of her future stretch out before her and she invites Ned to rent a room in her now desolate home. Nancy McDoniel has to start the play on a tricky emotional pitch and she is instantly captivating as the grieving neighbor. I was sorry that she was only in a few scenes.
The acting in The Golden Aurora is top-notch all around. David Townsend is compelling and expresses Ned's isolation and devotion with ease. Susan Hyon, as Joy, plays the lonely veterinarian as an outsider, the only one who can perhaps identify with Ned and attempt to understand his feelings. Joy feels underwritten and Hyon is clearly ready to sink her teeth into her relationship to Ned, but there is simply not enough there. As Frank, Patrick Melville is single-mindedly threatening and sad. Mary Rasmussen as his wife, Lynn, does a fine job with a difficult part: she is required to express the widest emotional range of all the characters in the play, and she rises to the challenge. Sharon O'Connell is both genuinely funny and disgraceful as Ned's mother.
Ari Laura Kreith's direction has some rhythmic issues, namely ghost-lit blackouts between each scene, some of them feel longer than the many short scenes they separate. The psychological effect of these blackouts really keeps the play from any natural, organic development. And Jeff Hinchee's set is clunky, some of it more trouble than it's worth. At one point, a section of chain-link fence is rolled on for a very short scene and then rolled off again. Such changes really impede the play from gaining any momentum.
But problems notwithstanding, the production is engaging and strong. It will certainly give you much to think about.