Politics of Passion
nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
June 29, 2007
Potomac Theatre Project's new production, Politics of Passion, has a lot going for it, namely some fine acting and intelligent direction by Cheryl Faraone. It's obvious that a lot of care has gone into mounting this show. But, despite PTP's best efforts, they cannot breathe life into these three passionless one-acts by British dramatist and filmmaker Anthony Minghella.
The first of these, Hang Up, details a phone conversation between two lovers who have been involved for quite a while. The woman (known only as She) is calling from out of town, worried that the man (He) won't ring before she goes to bed. As their talk continues it becomes obvious that there is a lot of suspicion and distrust in their relationship. He imagines that she has another man in her room. She gets bent out of shape that He hung out with a female friend earlier in the evening. Minghella's insights into the complex dynamics of relationships are well-observed, but they aren't anything we haven't seen before. And, with a title like Hang Up, it's clear from the start how the play will end. MacLeod Andrews and Lauren Turner Kiel make a handsome and convincing couple despite some shaky British accents.
Next is an excerpt from Minghella's debut film, Truly, Madly, Deeply, in which optimistic Mark attempts to woo his new crush, the cautious and tentative Nina, by telling her as much about himself as he possibly can in the time in takes him to get from the place where they're standing to a statue several dozen yards away—all while hopping on one foot. Anyone who's seen the film knows what a charming scene this is, and Michael Wrynn Doyle and Julia Proctor do a lovely job with it. But, taken out of context it doesn't add up to much more than filler, especially without all of Nina's complicated attendant back story (fans of the film will know exactly what I mean by this).
The main event is the final piece, Cigarettes and Chocolate, which tells the story of Gemma, a British woman who one day decides to stop speaking, much to the consternation of her friends and loved ones. Her silence drives them to console each other and think of ways to make her talk. It also compels them to open up to Gemma, and talk about themselves even more than they usually would. Her boyfriend, Rob, is hurt by her refusal to speak even to him (never mind that he's secretly cheating on her). Her best pal, Lorna, discloses the tragic story of her mother's suicide. Another friend, Alistair, admits that he's in love with her, and then tries to downplay it. Through it all, Gemma just keeps listening to Bach's "Matthew Passion" and doesn't say a word.
As is the case with the two plays that precede it, there's a lot of speechifying in Cigarettes and Coffee. These people talk at each other, not to each other, which eventually makes them all rather tiresome. Maybe that's the point Minghella is trying to make: that people today can never really connect as long as they pay more attention to themselves than they do to others. And transforming Gemma into a confessor for the other characters is an interesting device, but eventually all their neuroses become tedious. (Not to mention that Gemma's voluntary silence is never fully explained. Not cool, Mr. Minghella.)
Thankfully, there's a lot of strong acting in this last play, most notably from James Matthew Ryan as Rob, Tara Giordano as Lorna, and Laura C. Harris as their chatty pregnant friend, Gail. Cassidy Freeman also makes the most of the underwritten role of Gemma.
Faraone directs Politics and Passion with a confident hand, clearly putting across the themes of (mis)communication that run through all three of these pieces. But, as knowing and intellectually probing as they may be, these plays never engage on a visceral or emotional level. Minghella keeps a cool, level-headed distance from passion here, favoring somewhat disingenuous wit instead.
Potomac Theatre Project, however, is clearly a talented company worth keeping an eye on. I look forward to seeing what they can do with stronger material.