Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by Molly Beth Brenner, Fri., Sept. 12, 2003
Nothing Lost in Translation
Hyde Park Theatre, through Sept. 27
Running Time: 1 hr., 35 min.
In the realm of human experience, some losses cut so deeply and senselessly that they defy any sense of natural justice. What do we do when faced with such calamity? Some of us ram our hopes into high gear, dreaming up benign outcomes to a hopeless situation. Some of us simply rage. But many of us, brainy creatures that we are, attempt the impossible: to make sense out of our senseless misfortune.
Perdita, a new play by Austin playwright Monika Bustamante, is a chilling exploration of what can happen when loss barrels its way through everyday lives. The drama centers on a married couple, Stee and Luce, whose daughter was abducted and murdered years earlier. Gutted by their daily ache, they maintain only a delicate grasp on reality, which snaps when a neighbor's diabetic, college-age caretaker crosses their path on their daughter's birthday. The couple takes the young woman for their own, and the play unravels into a gripping suburban ghost story that weaves together the empty spaces in four people's lives and reveals the fantasies they use to patch up their loneliness.
This play is superb, from beginning to end. It's one of the most tightly crafted and beautifully written original works I've seen in Austin this year, and its production at Hyde Park Theatre is of sterling quality. Some of Perdita's power arises from the tension that the play maintains throughout, as reinforced by the steady, decisive direction of Ken Webster. Even though it's 95 minutes and has no intermission, not one moment is wasted in this piece, nor is the intermission missed. The play pulls one in like an undertow, not letting go until the end of the last line.
Hyde Park's production sensibilities are another reason for this show's punch. Brad Carlin's lighting and Robert S. Fisher's sound design are crisp and clean, neither overshadowing nor distracting from the action. Yet they fully draw one into the nightmarish, "dark and stormy night" quality that seeps from this piece. Leaving the theatre, I overheard one audience member say, "I feel like it must be raining outside." So did I.
If Webster's direction is commendable, so is his cast. Lana Dieterich stands out, working her prickly charm as Goldie, Stee and Luce's housebound neighbor. Cyndi Williams and David Jones are convincingly creepy as the cracked, grieving couple. And Jenni Rall, as Marnie, swings from diabetic haze to pert self-assurance with ease.
But the brightest star of Perdita is playwright Bustamante. She uses Marnie's illness-induced wooziness and the rhythm of a lost child's nursery rhymes to create space in a realistic play for throat-tingling poetry. The text brims with humor and insight, yet it maintains a sense of desperation at what is irretrievable in its characters' worlds. The sense of irreparability is reinforced by the structure of the play, in which scenes from the end and from the beginning of one fateful day are interspersed until a central, pivotal moment is reached; resolution is impossible when everything leads up to a moment in the past. Perdita is a compelling study of human willingness to sacrifice hard reality for the sweetness of a fading memory.