Clay Angels: The Mystery of Brotherly Love

Hyde Park Theatre
through August 9
Running time: 1 hr, 15 min

Sibling rivalry, sibling allegiance: the relationship between brothers is the raw material for myths and legends. Clayangels, written and performed by Daniel Alexander Jones and his brother Todd Jones, brings to Frontera @ Hyde Park Theatre two men's relationship that is at once unique and universal. Mixing biographic narrative with music and song, Egyptian mythology, and some old-fashioned gossip, the Joneses have assembled an often entertaining primer for getting to know them.

Daniel, the elder, head shaved, gently in command, guards, placates, reproves, remembers how achingly long it took to meet his newborn brother. Todd (the name means "death" in German!), the younger, a rapper with long dreads, strong, explosive, stalks the stage, lies down in his brother's arms, confronts and taunts. The connection between the two is deeply personal; at times, one senses contact that goes beyond simple performance. Such introversion borders on indulgence, a loss of contact with the audience for introspection that only few may access. Both performers can charm, though, and moments of inward awkwardness give way to audience-friendly explorations.

The pace of the evening is leisurely: a sort of tranquil music hall with turns and sketches, one bit sliding gently into the next. A pair of joined-at-the-hip, dowager neighbors flank the Jones' bi-racial home to pass judgment on the young men. They part to reveal Egyptian god and guard, together forever as servant and master (although the roles often reverse). The two men recall their lives together as children engaged in TV conflict (to PBS, or not to PBS) and their lives apart as young men following their individual call to music, performance, and self-expression. Peppered throughout are images of brothers at play, at odds. The audience must draw its own conclusions, make its own connections from the wealth of material: personal and historical, mythical and rhythmical.

Set design by Kim Koym and lighting by Scott Segar echo the sometime futility of the piece. Koym has created a stepped, tomb-like structure that emanates the desert warmth of ancient Egypt, but little dynamic happens upon or inside it. Segar provides a beautifully lit climactic moment, but there is something perfunctory about the body of the play: the physical elements cannot match the mystery of the words of myth and history. Grisha Coleman (who co-directed the play with performance artist Laurie Carlos) provides a musical score that seems closest to the heart of the piece: a third character, diffused amid the theatre, engaged in the onstage conversation, augmenting the mystery and the mundane of brotherly love.

-- Robi Polgar

Works By Annette Lawrence: Mortality in Brown Paper

Women & Their Work,
through August 27

The colors on Annette Lawrence's palette are sparse and simple: black and white. Her canvas of choice: brown paper. Along with her use of cryptic, rhythmic symbols and figures, these elements form a diagram of Lawrence's thoughts, a skeletal narrative of issues ranging from racial matters to the floor plan of her house.

Each work comes across in a quiet, humble way, like someone getting your attention by lightly tapping your shoulder. Lawrence uses black and white in a serene, yin and yang kind of balance, with thick acrylics that emphasize the brown paper's fleshy imperfections and the trials it endured as a box or a bag. Lawrence's selection of media and subject matter lends the works an innate feeling of transience that resonates throughout the entire collection, as seen in Tracks, a vast blueprint-like grid of Lawrence's past homes. The subject and the material -- acrylic on a huge, dismantled brown cardboard box -- is a double metaphor for the impermanent essence of the material world around us.

Perhaps the best example of the show's fleeting nature is Phoenix, a series of 12 acrylics on brown paper, arranged in three rows to form a tidy box. Read in a narrative form, the first piece on the first row represents the beginning; it depicts a small structure, with a series of slash marks seemingly counting off below it. As the narrative progresses, the viewer is brought closer to the structure -- yet the marks accumulate so that by the last piece they all but devour the structure. It could almost be construed as a jovial work; perhaps the marks represent the number of people who have entered the structure? Is this another of Lawrence's former homes? Its true meaning is much darker; the work depicts the progressive destruction of church burnings, a fact that propels the piece, once merely interesting, into a place of brutality and, again, mortality.

Lawrence's mounting technique is also strikingly ephemeral. Many of her frameless works, including Phoenix, are actually glued to the wall, on the edges of the pieces. When the show comes down, the pieces will be cut off the wall, just inside the glued area, so that with each new exhibition, the works become smaller and smaller. The only way to save them from self-destruction is to find them a permanent home, but permanence does not seem a fitting destiny for these paintings. -- Cari Marshall

Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities: Engaging From the Page

Planet Theatre
through August 2
Running Time: 2 hrs, 30 min

Adults like to complain about "these kids today." They listen to odd music. They don't respect their elders. They don't like to read. Granted, there may be some real problems brewing in the nation's high schools, but your average teen's lack of interest in reading is largely the fault of those who force them to read books that are as dry as the paper they are printed on. The student's only motivation for getting through these dusty old tomes is the next morning's quiz, not a desire to see how the story ends. This ensures that most students will always hate Shakespeare, loathe Hawthorne, and detest Dickens, despite the fact that these chaps actually knew how to tell a fine story, once you get beneath the layers of archaic language and paid-by-the-word prose.

Everyone who has had to endure high school English should check out Kirk Smith's adaptation of Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities at Planet Theatre, performed by its Summer Youth Theatre troupe. Set against the backdrop of the French Revolution, which seems like it was foreshadowing the mid-1980s, Dickens weaves the stories of more than eight characters into an epic tale of excess and sorrow. Smith has managed to distill the drama from this much maligned text and, despite the fact that this version still seems as wordy as the original, create an evening of surprisingly engaging theatre.

The cast, which consists of teenagers and five adults, has used Smith's fluid adaptation to its advantage. Mary Fletcher, Meredith Fraser, and Tiffany Nicely-Williams give solid performances in their many roles, and Patricia O'Keefe shines as Lucie Manette, the young French orphan who is the object of two men's affection. One of these suitors, Charles Darnay, is smartly acted by Renato Del Vento, and Matthew Patterson gives an amazing performance as Sidney Carton, the man who has always admired Manette from afar. Patterson perfectly plays Carton's drunken peevishness while consistently showing the character's hidden spine.

While there are some uneven performances in this occasionally melodramatic tale, Jason Amato's saturated lights, which echo the heightened emotions of the text, and Pio Pulido's set, with a guillotine as its focal point, more than adequately fill in any gaps that may be left. Perhaps the only technical drawback is sound designer Blaine Indemaio's use of a film-like underscore. At times, the sound becomes too artificial and makes it difficult to hear the actors.

But this show is enough to make even the most classics-scarred person want to pick up the novel and give it one more try. Largely, this production is the best of times, not the worst of times. -- Adrienne Martini

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