Anxiety and Identity at the Hayworth Theater
Sam Shepard is a writer whose work is known for its existential crises and issues with identity. Mr. Shepard is also known as being someone who connects closely with the world of musicians and rock and roll. Both the anxiety about identity and the attraction to and respect of music are both demonstrated in his “Suicide in B flat”, which Range View Productions is putting on at the Hayworth Theater on Wilshire Blvd.
The play opens with two very verbose detectives, investigating the “murder” of a musician named Niles. It appears as though Niles’ face has been blown off. But neither of them seems 100% sure that it was a murder. In fact, they theorize that maybe Niles has staged his own death and run away somewhere, in an effort to try and escape the demons of his inner life- demons that the detectives believe are a necessary side effect of the creativity needed to write Niles’ kind of music.
The detectives bounce theories off each other and theorize that maybe instead of being murdered, Niles has run away to try and rid himself of the draining side effects of his creativity. They discuss the possibility that once Niles is able to live the way he wants, he will be forcibly and irrevocably tied down to mundanity and loose touch with his creativity. But no- they ultimately go back to thinking they have a cut-and-dry murder, which I, as a member of the audience, also thought until Petrone came crawling through the airshaft with his saxophone.
From that moment in, I felt as though I was struggling to make sense of who each character was. I finally decided that both detectives, Petrone, and Laureen, were figments of Niles' imagination- though I still haven't decided whether they were clear alter-egos or merely ephemeral voices in Niles' brain.
I feel it necessary to take all this time explaining aspects of the plot, because honestly, the script is a bit confusing. The plot is not really linear, and only audience members who are comfortable navigating the complex landscapes of Shepard's anxieties will be able to take enough away from this production to make it worth their time and money.
Partially, the blame rests on the shoulders of Shepard, for writing such a loopy play. But partially, the blame also rests on director Scott Werve's shoulders. Mr. Werve did not do a strong enough job of forcing the actors who play Laureen, Petrone, and the two detectives, to develop strong and distinguishable characters. If the characters had had less similar manners and ways of interacting I think some of my confusion regarding their exact roles in the text, would have been alleviated.
The text I believe, is necessarily disorienting, so my confusion regarding the characters is not an indication that the production is irredeemably flawed. The play has very high production standards- the set, costumes, and sound-scapes are all very appealing and effective in creating the weird internal world in which the play is set. The acting is good. Nick Toren as Niles and Cynthia Beckert as Paulette are especially notable- though they have roles that are a touch more straightforward, which helps. John Ross Clark, Patrick Hurley, Stephen Kline, and Sasha Harris are all good- they stay focused and committed to their roles throughout the play's duration. But I wish they'd been given more direction in terms of developing more individual qualities, and they need to do a slightly better job of listening to each other.
I'd also like to take a moment to comment on the theater itself. The Hayworth is an extraordinary facility. It is a lovely and comfortable place to see a show, and the staff of Range View Productions did an excellent job of creating a comfortable, friendly environment for theater fans.
I encourage theater fans who are interested in themes of identity to check this play out- there are some really priceless moments, despite the flaws in the script and production. It is definitely a thought-provoking piece on many levels.
The play runs Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays through November 18th, at the Hayworth Theater 2511 Wilshire Blvd. Contact 323-960-7740 or www.plays411.com/suicide for tickets.