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    Complete archive, 1999-present

    2008-2009 reviews:
  • Anaïs Nin Goes To Hell
  • beast: a parable
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  • China: The Whole Enchilada
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  • Fringe Festival 2008
  • Fringe Festival favorites
  • The Glass Cage
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  • The Longest Running Joke of the Twentieth Century
  • Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising
  • Macbeth
  • The Master Builder
  • Missa Solemnis, or The Play About Henry
  • Mourn the Living Hector
  • A Nasty Story
  • Nowadays
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      Savannah Bay
    Love and death

    Marguerite Duras' "Savannah Bay" spins beautifully impressionistic language around the story of a family tragedy.


    Marguerite Duras made a career of exploring amour fou (irrational love). Perhaps best known for "Hiroshima, Mon Amour," her 1959 film collaboration with Alain Resnais, Duras wrote novels, plays and films and managed to stamp her work with a hypnotic melancholia born of regret and loss. If her play "Savannah Bay," currently being presented by the Theater for the New City in association with Joyce H. Johnson through Dec. 12, is thin dramatically, it succeeds in providing a glimpse into the kind of all-consuming, youthful passion that can arrest the flow of time.

    Written by: Marguerite Duras.
    Directed by: Andrew Volkoff.
    Cast: Peg Small, India Blake.
    Translated by Barbara Bray.
    The play is a mood piece in which a girl draws her aged grandmother into a game of memories recalled over afternoon tea. The grandmother, Madeleine, has been an actress and the girl suggests that the stories of a girl determined to die for love, heard countless times before, may be based less in fact than in imagination. We discover early on that the young girl doomed by her own passion is the granddaughter's dead mother, but Duras makes us wait for the play's horrible coup de grace.

    As Madeleine, Peg Small displays the fiery grit of a woman who seeks to understand and make peace with her daughter's suicide the only way she knows — by embodying the role, conjuring the details of her seaside seduction, exploiting the emotions for theatrical effect. The strength of "Savannah Bay" is Duras' impressionistic language, the intricately-designed verbal repetitions that Madeleine spins as if to show her resolve to burrow inside this character, her daughter, getting at its emotional center. India Blake is not nearly as satisfying as the granddaughter, who is more a dramatic device for the grandmother to play off of than a fully-conceived character.

    Director Andrew Volkoff has wisely resisted the temptation to dress the play in imaginative staging. His choice ensures that nothing obscures Duras' hypnotic language. Except for two moments in front of a gigantic mirror that tilts out of the sand like some excavated ruin, the two actors are confined to chairs at the end of an improbably long dining table.

    If there is a detail that defines the mood of "Savannah Bay," it is the unbearable sadness of love lost captured by afternoon sunlight pushing through half-drawn wooden Venetian blinds. It is an image borrowed from her short novel, "The Lover," about a doomed tryst between a Chinese gentleman and a teenaged French colonial girl in 1920s French Indochina. Duras uses it to suggest the allure of amour fou, the apparent suspension of time experienced by lovers caught up in their passion. Though Duras' wordplay is perhaps better appreciated on the printed page, Peg Small's performance shines a brilliant light and lets us imagine, even slightly, why a girl might choose to die for love.

    DECEMBER 7, 1999

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