The Austin Chronicle


Local Arts Reviews

Reviewed by Rob Curran, April 4, 2003, Arts

Saved or Destroyed:

Isn't She Lovely?

Dougherty Arts Center, through April 5

Running Time: 1 hr, 30 min

Saved or Destroyed made me laugh, think, and even marvel at the beauty of it all.

R. Bryan Peterson anchors the Mainline Theater Project production well as the familiar narrator, Vincent. When the floodlights go up, Vincent and the other actors are free like Pirandello's characters without an author; when the lights go down, they must act out a family love affair. In his opening lines, Vincent peels the skin off the drama, telling the audience they came to the theatre to see people "more troubled than yourselves." He introduces himself as an actor who, like the play's author, Harry Kondoleon, has never been a star: "You probably have not seen me in regional productions all over the country," he says. His film appearances have amounted to a handful of popcorn.

In the family storyline, Vincent makes his cousin Karin (Marisa Pisano) pregnant during a holiday fling under the watchful eye of Karin's adopted mother, Anne (Natalie George). Christopher Moore is brilliant as Karin's adopted father, Ivan, who is never happy unless he is irate. "Did you have serious sex with my daughter?" he shouts. Josh Painting, playing Ivan's estranged brother, and Elissa Linares, as his wife, Vincent's über-mother, have an extremely convincing fight about their second-class status: "It's not about things, though things cushion the fall." From relatively standard fare, the story swerves into ugly realism as Karin has an abortion, then two miscarriages.

When Kondoleon wrote Saved or Destroyed in 1994, he knew he was dying, and death clashes with birth throughout his last script. The program states that Kondoleon reeled off the script in three weeks, hence the raw quality of sublime lines like: "The past is already halfway into make-believe."

Much experimental theatre has the same effect on me as chemistry class: It leaves me disoriented and cold. Director Jeremy Sexton's style of innovation is warmer. From the actors' dramatic entrance to their final lineup, the surprises come in a natural way. Sexton yields power from simple symbols like a door downstage that opens and closes or the "creator" who communicates through flashing lights (kudos to the lighting crew led by Julie Buchanan and Kim Cowan). The dust on the characters' costumes emphasizes the fact that they are costumes without rubbing it in.

The acting is not only excellent, but it shows how people pop in and out of character with the lights. In one highlight George and Peterson synchronize their voices in a hilarious credo for poor actors. "I need the money," goes the refrain. And when they become stars, they will hang with the other "scintillators," have "oodles of love affairs," go to Ibiza, and have happy children, or at least children who can find publishers for their "bitter rage memoirs."

Rendering these dreams and truths so faithfully, the Mainline Theater Project keeps Kondoleon's beautiful creation alive.

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