Thursday, 12 May 2016

THE RUINS OF CIVILIZATION by Penelope Skinner at the Manhattan Theatre Club

     Though I have spend my life devoted to making and going to theatre, I find myself much more drawn these days to concerts (classical), opera and dance performances. A live drama has to justify itself in this age of competition from quality television and other media. I thought about all this as I wasted a lovely, sunny Spring afternoon at THE RUINS OF CIVILIZATION. What is playwright Penelope Skinner trying to say in this confused bit of dystopian soap opera? The only question that kept me going was who was going to be the victim of the cat poison (yes, cat poison), introduced early in the play--remember Chekhov's dictum that if you introduce a gun in Act I, you've got to shoot it by Act III.
     We're in some future time where global warming has caused much of the world to be flooded. Altruism no longer exists. Since the play takes place in England (hence some really awful British accents), I couldn't help wondering why that small island has survived. For some reason--there is a lot that isn't explained in the play--women are not supposed to have children. Nor, it seems, are people supposed to have cats, which are considered vermin to be eliminated. Silver is an author (the now embattled publishing industry seems to have survived into the future). He's also a sanctimonious prig and bully who treats his wife as if she were a child. The usually charming Tim Daly has not found a way to make this character at all likable. In fact, I spent much of the play praying that Silver would be the recipient of the cat poison. Silver's wife, Joy, who is recovering from psychological problems because she can't have a child, brings into the house a pregnant Eastern European woman. Mara's child is the product of a brutal rape by her employer (the playwright isn't a fan of the male gender). Joy sees the baby as a kind of Christ figure who can save the world. Of course, Silver isn't happy with harboring a criminal in his home.
     What's the point of all this? The world is a mess because male brutality has won over women's love, fertility and generosity. Unfortunately, the play is heavy-handed. Has Joy been cast with a Black actress to give a racial dynamic to Silver's domestic tyranny? Rachel Holmes seemed to strong for her somewhat desperate character. I saw an early preview. Perhaps Leah C. Gardner's direction will get some rhythm during subsequent performances.
     Not a must see.
THE RUINS OF CIVILIZATION. Manhattan Theatre Club at City Center Stage II. May 8, 2016.

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