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Toil and Trouble

Lukewarm Sun meets Milquetoast Macbeth

Kevin Donnelly and Peach Musikabhumma play an expatriate American and his Thai mistress in the Baltimore Playwrights Festival entry Run Past the Sun.

By Mike Giuliano | Posted 8/1/2001

Run Past the Sun and Macbeth

Theodore Groll and William Shakespeare

A middle-aged man from Middle America escapes his unhappy life by running away to Thailand in Theodore Groll's Run Past the Sun, a Baltimore Playwrights Festival selection being produced at the Chesapeake Center for the Creative Arts, a recently opened arts facility in Brooklyn Park.

You can't blame a guy for wanting to become a Thai beach bum, especially if he finds himself in a tropical setting as tempting as the beach, bar, and bungalow evoked by Kevin Hodges' three-section set design. The complications of trying to live out that fantasy make for an interesting if uneven play.

The 50-year-old runaway, Paul Gallahan (Kevin Donnelly), has fled his Illinois poultry business and family. "I stopped here. It's a simple life," he observes of the six months he's been hiding out in Thailand. Gallahan tends to describe his emotional life in simple declarative sentences that reduce the complexities of life to bite-sized platitudes. His flat lines are even flatter as delivered by Donnelly, who seems oddly disconnected from a role that calls for heartfelt explanations of life-altering decisions.

At least there are some conversational sparks when Gallahan shoots the breeze with Jackson (Stephen Green), a fellow expatriate who runs a bar. If Jackson has no responsibilities other than to pour drinks, Gallahan has enough messiness in his life to provide Run Past the Sun with dramatic heft.

Gallahan is living with a young Thai woman, Kuk (Peach Musikabhumma), a generation- and culture-crossing relationship made more complex by the presence of her mother and brother. Moreover, Gallahan's wife, son, and a lawyer they've retained suddenly appear in a contrived if effective plot development relating to a family inheritance. On top of all that, a typhoon is about to blow in. Hold onto your wicker furniture, here comes a family-rattling storm.

Groll successfully, if rather obviously, orchestrates the melodramatic outbursts, and the actors portraying Gallahan's wife (Bethany Brown) and son (Josh Petroski) deliver emotionally charged performances that squeeze maximum energy out of the functional dialogue.

If the pace sometimes drags, it's partly because director Wayne Shipley seems in no hurry to move things along. Also, the script needs trimming. When Kuk and her family discuss the Gallahan family, for instance, they mostly exchange information the audience already knows. When Jackson, the African- American bar owner, occasionally affects a French accent, these scenes go on long after their humor has been milked. And the conversations between Gallahan and his wife and son should explore family tensions without seeming like the playwright checking items off a lengthy list.

Run Past the Sun is a new play that needs a rewrite, but that's hardly the case for Shakespeare's Macbeth. However, the Invisible Theatre Company production at the Roland Park Country School, directed by Michael McNulty, has tinkered with the Bard's script in an adaptation that expands the number of witches and their time on stage.

Besides their usual incantations around a cauldron, this production's five witches show up in other scenes; in fact, they slay Banquo and later show up as dinner guests in the scene where his ghost appears. And Lady Macbeth often mingles with them, establishing a connection between their dire prophecies and her vile scheming.

It's a potentially fascinating interpretation, but it backfires for at least two reasons: The witches' athletic actions seem to be inspired by Cats more than Shakespeare, with many lines nearly swallowed up in all the murky movement, and Lesley Malin is such a passive Lady Macbeth that the witches seem to have failed in educating her.

The acting rarely rises above competent. Wayne Willinger charges around the stage as the Scottish warrior Macbeth but is too slight both physically and in his line readings to ever seem commanding. Most of the young cast members know their lines, but they need to work on conveying meaning. What's the point of skillfully moving about a busy set (including doors, stairs, platforms, and a hellish pit) if one can't handle Shakespeare's dialogue?

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