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Miller's Genius Falters in Newest Play

January 15, 1988|NANCY CHURNIN

SAN DIEGO — It doesn't matter how many years of disappointing plays Arthur Miller delivers. When he speaks, attention must be paid to the author of such classics as "All My Sons," "The Crucible" and "Death of a Salesman."

Octad-One is to be commended for bringing the West Coast premiere of Miller's latest play, a one-act called "I Can't Remember Anything" to the Grossmont College Stagehouse Theatre through Jan. 24. Thus dutifully said, it must also be noted the play itself is a disappointment that comes just short of being a downright depressing contrast to the genius that was.

It is paired with "The 75th," a one-act by Israel Horovitz, that is better than the Miller play only to the extent that its thought line can be followed, but "The 75th" is not particularly insightful or interesting.

The team of Martin Gerrish, founder of Octad-One, and Katherine Faulconer do their talented best to breathe life into these conceptual calamities. But Rumpelstiltskins they're not--they can't weave gold from straw.

In "I Can't Remember Anything," an elderly well-dressed woman who drinks too much drops in on an elderly man who is preparing, and ultimately burning, rice for dinner. After 40 minutes of caviling about the virtues of pessimism versus optimism, wealth versus poverty, the value of donating organs after death and leaving the audience wondering just what the relationship between the two is anyway, we find out that the man and woman are not divorced or separated but are old friends.

It's one of those no-payoff revelations that makes one wonder why the relationship couldn't have been established in the first place so we could concentrate on the substance of what these two had to say to each other.

Patricia Milke's direction doesn't elicit much in the way of sparks between Gerrish and Faulconer--at least not until the slow softness of their impromptu dance at the end. Still, individually, Gerrish brings a pleasing naturalness to the aging, arthritic communist and Faulconer a nice taut quality to the tense, wealthy widow.

The most eye-catching part of the show is Gerrish's set, a four-wall cottage that looks scissored down to revealing angles. John Ivy's lighting is suitable, if not striking, and Elaine Gerrish's simple costume for Martin Gerrish is fine, but Faulconer's outfit could have provided a sharper contrast with a more well-to-do look.

One does not need to know more about "The 75th" than that it is a story about a 75th high school reunion that has boiled down to one widow and one widower to figure out what turns the story will take. If the premise wasn't done for "Love Boat," it should have been.

Here Gerrish and Faulconer get to switch places as Gerrish plays the robust, wealthy widower and Faulconer the fragile old lady in yesterday's finery, the frippery a piquant contrast with the slightly starved look about her.

Elaine Gerrish lets pleasantly loose with the costumes here, but almost as if to keep some perverse balance, Martin Gerrish's set is correspondingly drab. Again, Ivey's lighting does the job.

"The 75th," like "I Can't Remember Anything," also leads to a dance, but unlike the latter, "The 75th," under Milke's direction, maintains a high level of warmth throughout. Enough, in fact, to bring the simmering brain to a boil.

Gerrish and Faulconer are clearly capable of more challenging theatrical steps than those afforded by these works. Here's hoping they find more worthy material the next time around.

Performances are at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday through Jan. 24 at the Grossmont College Stagehouse Theatre, 8800 Grossmont College Theatre Blvd. , El Cajon.

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