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Paulanne Simmons

“The Lightning Field” at The Fringe

“The Lightning Field”
Directed by Jared Coseglia
The Flea
41 White Street between Broadway and Church St.
Aug. 13th at 5:45 p.m., 17th at 8 p.m., 19th at 3:30 p.m., 21st at 12:20 p.m., 24th at 7:15 p.m. and 28th at 12:15 p.m.
$15, visit www.FringeNYC.org or call (212) 279-4488
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons, Aug. 19, 2005

In David Ozanich’s new play, “The Lightning Field,” four people – two lovers, one of the lover’s divorced father and the other’s divorced mother – take a trip to see a land art installation created by the American sculptor Walter De Maria. The installation is known as The Lightning Field because its series of metal poles were once struck by lightning, and, like many other visitors, these people are hoping lightning will strike twice.

One of the lovers comes from a family of abusive men and has a need to inflict pain, both physical and psychological. The other lover is passive, intellectual and has a steak of masochism. The mother, Lori (Bekka Lindstrom), and the father, Gerrit (Ron McClary) seem to be attracted to each other despite previous failures in their love lives.

So far there doesn’t appear to be much new in this Fringe Festival show playing at The Flea through August 28. But it just so happens the two lovers are named Sam (H Clark) and Andy (Cory Grant), and the two young men are trying to decide whether they want a monogamous relationship, whether or not they’re going to get married, whether they will live in New York City or start a new life in Denver, and whether Andy will consent to be Sam’s punching bag and prove that “love is acceptance.”

Now, one might well ask what makes this play any different from a score of other plays dealing with gay angst. It could be excellent direction, persuasive acting or a compelling script. Unfortunately, The Lightning Field has none of these.

Ozanich’s script bounces crazily from TV sitcom humor to TV soap opera drama. The dialogue is overwritten, overwrought and under-whelming.

Given the clunky script he was handed, it’s hard to imagine what director Jared Coseglia could have done with this play. He seems to have solved his problems with plot and dialogue by using blasts of lightning, lots of yelling and a repulsive rape scene to intensify the action.

As for the acting, except for McClary, who occasionally manages to wring humanity out of the stagy lines, the performances are painfully inept. At one point, Lori sees the two lovers sleeping, wrapped in each other’s arms and says they’re like “puppy dogs in a window.” Indeed she’s perfectly correct. Their passion does resemble frolicking puppies – until they start snarling and biting. But who wants to watch puppies on stage?

On one hand, Ozanich seems to be saying The Lightning Field is an exploration of the non-traditional family and how it is just another form of the more familiar nuclear unit. Relationships are relationships. Love is love. Commitment is commitment. But if this is true, one cannot avoid wondering what playwright would put on stage a pair of unfaithful, masochistic and abusive lovers and not expect the audience to conclude that these were atypical people in need of professional help?

No, it’s much more likely that The Lightning Field is really all about gay relationships and their inherent problems with sex, marriage, fidelity and integration into the world of straight people. Why else would Ozanich indicate a possible relationship between Lori and Gerrit and then let it drop like a lead balloon unless it just didn’t matter?

But if The Lightning Field is specific to the way gay men interact, it certainly does not speak well for gay marriages or gay relationships. It’s more like an airing of dirty laundry. Nor does it have much relevance for straight relationships – save, of course, the most unhealthy and least representational.

For those interested in seeing a play – any play – that explores issues concerning the gay community, this show is highly recommended. For everyone else, The Lightning Field won’t exactly light up the skies.

Review by Paulanne Simmons.

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