13P at the Paradise Factory
November 28, 2009
Julia Jarcho (playwright & director)
Julia Jarcho has written and directed a thriller about the blood curse of American history. A postmodern plot lifts its set-up from Dashiell Hammett—a waif asks a PI to find her sister's killer—but their search through history gets well and truly weird, more Pynchon than Chandler. It's not a spoiler to reveal that the theme of American Treasure is the genocide of America's native people, or that the spirit that animates this script is, in the end, an enigma.
Or it ought to be. American Treasure is compelling stuff, but it's also proof that playwrights should rarely direct their own scripts. With its fragmentary scenes and hopscotch structure, American Treasure should hurtle along like an Indiana Jones movie, albeit one written by Stephen King. But Jarcho saps her script by double- and triple-casting the actors, maybe to save cash or maybe cuz that's modern convention. But more actors would lend the conspiracy weight; in this show, some actors need to be hiding knowledge.
Still, I don't blame the performers. Jenny Seastone Stern, at least, has an uncanny presence that fits the show's tone perfectly (after her perfs here & in The Bereaved, I can't wait to see her again). Aaron Landsman, however, gets in the script's way, and ends up looking tense and confused. He doesn't communicate the double-meanings and dramatic ironies that the dialogue's packed with. But another director could've guided him better.
All this adds up to a stiff climax, which has Jarcho busily underlining the play's message instead of playing up the riddle of history. To say that American genocide is literally unspeakable makes a good graduate thesis but it's tough theater—although the lovely set, designed by Jason Simms to look remarkably like a human diorama at the Museum of Natural History, is itself a sort of winking clue that ironies can be staged. Jarcho's script gives me the heebie-jeebies; it's worth a read. But onstage, the mystery is missed.
American Treasure plays at the Paradise Factory (64 East 4th Street, betw. Second Ave & the Bowery), closing on December 12. Tickets?
Photo credit: Rob Strong