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DANCE REVIEWS : Dante Meets Voltaire in 'Thomas D.'

November 07, 1994|CHRIS PASLES

Rinde Eckert's "The Gardening of Thomas D.", in its L.A. premiere Friday in Freud Playhouse at UCLA, is an uptown performance-art take on "Field of Dreams."

Thomas, a disaffected but of course brilliant and moral accountant played by Eckert, has a spiritual crisis and/or a stroke in a supermarket. Through the agency of an angel-girlfriend (Ellie Klopp,) he finds redemption of sorts in reseeding an abandoned baseball field at a monastery.

It's sort of Dante meets Voltaire meets Hollywood.

The problem is that Thomas isn't a character anyone can care much about. He is self-absorbed, loquacious, obtuse. He doesn't appreciate the angel-girlfriend for what she is, although she gives him critical advice--and a shovel. His crisis seems contrived and unclear.

Eckert, author of the piece, was a resourceful and versatile artist in assuming several voices and characterizations--some amusing, some deadly--during the long 80-minute work. He only fitfully, however, engaged empathy.

Klopp embodied common sense attractively and negotiated the chain-link fence representing the heavens or some such adroitly.

That fence was part of the most absorbing element of the production--Alexander V. Nichols' ingenious set design--a section of bleachers that served to suggest circles of Hell as well as seating for a baseball diamond.

Nichols also did the lighting and shared direction with Eckert and Melissa Weaver. Ten other people and a technical company received credit for the production as well. No one, however, was credited for providing the sand and the peat moss.

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