nytheatre.com review by Frank Anthony Polito
August 13, 2006
Presented by Teatro Oscuro, Vincent Marano's A Collapse is inspired by a true story—the 1976 earthquake in Western China that left an estimated 350,000 to 500,000 people dead and millions more homeless, the greatest loss of life caused by a single natural or manmade disaster in recorded history.
Following an uncertain tragedy (an explosion?), a middle-aged single mother named Su informs us that her only child, 16-year-old Mari (as in "Virgin"), has become trapped within the wall of a neighboring building. Soon, Su's neighbors rally together to devise a plan to save young Mari from her terrible fate. Enter the Community Executive (a cell-phone brandishing "suit") with good news: "The army is coming!" After an entire day passes, two soldiers finally arrive to save the day. Will young Mari be rescued? Will she and her mother go on to lead a quite, normal life in their quiet, little town (located somewhere in a non-specific region of some non-specific country on a non-specific continent, somewhere)? Or will Mari remained trapped forever, only to become the popular tourist attraction known as the "Wall Girl"?
But, again, A Collapse is only inspired by a true story. Which makes us think about all the other "inspired by" stories we've seen. (And isn't that what good theatre is supposed to do—make us think?) How do we know which moments occurring before us have actually occurred in the lives of those who've "inspired" the story and which have been altered in the name of creating "drama?" Where A Collapse falls short is that we don't begin to think about this until the play is almost over. Then we begin to realize the pain and struggle we've been watching Su go through comes not only from the pain of her loss, but also from our witnessing those around her as they attempt to tell her daughter's story.
The one criticism I'd give is the performance I saw wasn't very "funny." And I believe it's the playwright's intention for it to be (according to production notes on fringenyc.org, it says, "Besides, you'll laugh"). There are some hilarious moments in Marano's script that I think can and should be played for laughs. (After Soldier 1 cops a feel of Mari's breast, Soldier 2 says, "That tit could cost us a parade.") Otherwise, the audience feels uncertain whether or not it's okay to find such a "tragic" story humorous.
A charming performance is given by Ethan Dowling as 1st Soldier, especially in the "balcony scene" (played on David Roman and Ed McNamee's multi-leveled set) with ingénue-perfect Laura Williams as the "Wall Girl," Mari. Christina Romanello displays a variety of talent in multiple supporting roles, especially as a savvy film director. Janice Mann gives a brief but tender portrayal of a peasant woman who's lost her family in the disaster, while Kathleen O'Neill, as Su, is the glue bonding A Collapse together.