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Not Much Insight in 'Veil's' Thin One-Acts

November 24, 2000|JANA J. MONJI

The two one-acts that make up Karen Hartman's "The Veil Plays" aren't as titillating or as thought-provoking as Salome's legendary Dance of Seven Veils. The vague locale obscures any moral teachings. In keeping with Hartman's script, the precisely played Circle X production at the Hollywood Court Theatre doesn't choose a particular country; Mara West's costume design goes for nondescript Middle Eastern.

In "The Mother of Modern Censorship," the chief music censor (Jennifer Toffel) for the unnamed country finds her position threatened by the enthusiasm of a new recruit (Daniele O'Loughlin), her formerly loyal assistant's (Luck Hari) restlessness and men's notion of modernization. Jim Anzide's direction effectively uses pregnant pauses and precision of movement contrasted with humorous facial expressions that hint at sensual enjoyment of the forbidden music.

In the second half, we're taken to a place where "Gum" is forbidden for its erotic effect on young virginal girls. Two sisters--the uncircumcised Rhami (Kiersten Van Horne) and the circumcised Lina (Wendy Abas)--hoard and beg for this proscribed pleasure. When a man (Richard Augustine) courts the elder sister, Rhami, an earlier sexual transgression is revealed, resulting in her tragic circumcision. Lina prepares to flee to the West and freedom.

Hartman's use of quaint phrases referencing God gives these proceedings a religious connotation, although female circumcision is more a matter of culture than religion. In the absence of the modesty represented by the veil, the West also has standards of beauty that can oppress women. But Hartman appears oblivious to the tyranny of supermodels, anorexia and plastic surgery.

Director Julia Hamilton brings out a sense of earnestness in Van Horne's, Abas' and Augustine's performances. Jayne Taini as the sister's Auntie is concerned but distracted. Neither Hamilton or Hartman sets up the exact motivation of the man (Michael Hagerty) who reveals Rhami's sordid secret. The girls' father is distracting by his absence--perhaps an unintentional irony in Hartman's examination of a paternalistic society.

Satires should aim at something more than nebulous notions about foreign countries. These one-acts pander to American prejudices and stereotypes of Middle Eastern nations.


* "The Veil Plays: 'The Mother of Modern Censorship' and 'Gum,' " Hollywood Court Theatre, 6817 Franklin Ave., Hollywood. Thursdays-Sundays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends Dec. 16. $15-$20. Sunday matinee, pay-what-you-can. (323) 969-9239, Ext. 2.

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