Gary Owen's "Ghost City"
59E59 Theater B, 59 E. 59th St.
Presented by Sgript Cymru Contemporary Drama Wales
June 1-13. Closed.
Reviewed by Robert Hicks on June 12, 2004.
Welsh playwright Gary Owen's fourth drama, "Ghost City," is set in Cardiff, Wales. Four actors present the play's myriad characters through monologues that stand as poetic, vivid incidents in these characters' lives, resonant with psychological insight.
The opening monologue features a Welsh radio shock jock stirring up controversy by saying the racially offensive word "sod" on the air. His young producer cuts him off the air and becomes the target of the radio announcer's rage. Listeners are now no longer calling into his talk show and he is out of touch with the contemporary music he's playing over the national radio station in Wales.
Other characters emerge as noteworthy additions to Owen's portrayal of daily life in Cardiff. A supply teacher, Mrs. Bowen, talks to a violent, reclusive high school boy who has locked himself in the school cupboard. He's disrupted Miss Price's history classes and is suspected of slashing tires on her car. Now she is missing and he feels blameworthy. Mrs. Bowen comforts him, but also reveals his underlying rage and violence.
Another telling scene addresses the issue of trust. A lecturer addresses his audience telling a story of his son approaching a tramp. The father tells him, "No," but the boy continues to move toward the tramp. "No, dirty," the father warns his son, who returns to his father's side, responding to his father's command with innocent trust. The lecturer solicits his audience's trust.
There are signs of danger, though, in this panorama of postmodern urban life. A young man is willing to jeopardize his relationship with his girlfriend by having illicit sex with her ten-year-old sister. By promising to undergo therapy to resolve her problems with her parents, a young woman hopes to reunite with her boyfriend. A cocaine dealer tries to overcharge a Ferrari driver for drugs, steals the driver's cell phone and threatens violence. A newspaper editor confronts a woman who has written a letter protesting the paper's Palestinian coverage. The editor's monologue takes a dark turn, though, when he reveals he's really part of a "neo-Luddite hip-hop collective" whose objective is to intimidate its political opponents.
At one moment in each scene, the actors receive a shock treatment. We hear a static noise that immobilizes them temporarily. Each actor then continues the narrative from a slightly altered perspective. One woman in search of her friend lost in a fire remarks, "I wanted to see her Or is it that's just how you feel when you've seen a ghost."
These characters live in a society in which racial intolerance against Pakistanis and other new immigrants is on the rise. Threats to personal safety are on the upswing, too. There's racism, class conflict, drug abuse, domestic violence and political terrorism. It's a time of impending danger not unlike the fears and unrest when Jews were persecuted during World War II. Britain once considered itself a powerful culture, but now it doesn't even seem adept at controlling the growing sense of disconnection and danger that threatens people's security and trust.
Owen appears to suggest that unless people do a better job of supporting one another and providing a foundation for trust that society will be left with a world of disconnection and violence. We must counteract the impending danger with a greater sense of community. Otherwise, we'll all be dead and be left with nothing but a ghost city.
Toward the end of the play, a man draped in a blanket (perhaps the tramp alluded to earlier in the play) announces, "I wish to inform you that you and all your families will be killed tomorrow." Could this even be a cryptic reference to Nazi concentration camps in Germany during World War II? In the play's final scene, two characters aid a woman as she approaches the man. She convinces him to abate his threats of violence. He replies, "Alright, I'll let you live. But just for this one night."
The playwright fails to make the connections between these characters' monologues clear. We're left with remarkable character sketches, but no real sense of drama and no lucid understanding of what makes postmodern urban life a "Ghost City."[Hicks]