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Theater Review

'Murder' Delivers a Vibrant Lesson About Dark, Brutal Cycle of Violence

November 01, 2001|JANA J. MONJI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

With a play titled "Murder," you can't exactly be subtle. Hanoch Levin's tale isn't about mystery, but about a brutal cycle of violence driven by revenge and repressed rage.

In this California Repertory Company production at the Edison Theatre, director Brian Michaels eschews the gore potential. The wounds and physical effects of violence are only suggested. Instead, he emphasizes the lyrical quality of Levin's script and the universality of the theme.

Levin, an Israeli playwright, expanded his understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by stripping it down to its essential elements, transporting the play beyond the disputed borders of the two nations. Scenic designer Andrew Deppen has created an abstract landscape--large, bulky rectangular blocks seem to pave a floor that can be mechanically adjusted at an angle to a similarly paved curved wall.

The surfaces gleam with a rich brown patina that suggests age. The four murders could take place anywhere--even in a science-fiction futuristic world, and no one in Levin's created society is guilt-free.

In Act 1, three soldiers (John Henry Mellies, Mark Staley and Jay Wallace) throw a youth (Rory W. Cowan) through the threshold opening in the curved wall. Because they are backlighted, their faces are somewhat obscured, but their intentions are clear--the beating and mutilation of a young boy. Yet when the youth's father (Chris McCool) appears, the soldiers' faces, now clearly lighted by Chris Kittrell's lighting design, show a studied indifference as they struggle to alienate themselves from the father's grief.

The soldiers won't even tell the father about his son's last words. That cruelty weighs heavily on the father's mind until a few years later, when he murders a newly married groom (Mellies) who he believes was one of those soldiers. Like the soldiers, his power over the terrified bride (Tannis Hanson) tempts him into cruelty.

In a world where life is cheap, the third act shows that women are no saints either. An angry prostitute (Callan White) incites a mob against a man (Craig Fleming) who insulted her, claiming that he was involved in terrorist activity.

Although Levin has created a longstanding war between people, he doesn't define one side as right and another wrong. Neither side is considered inherently evil, but rather, unrelentingly bitter and mired in the hopelessness of constant fear and anger.

In a bracing 90 minutes, Michaels and his able ensemble have packed in a vibrant and unflinching lesson about hate and violence that reverberates almost too intensely in America today.

*

"Murder," Edison Theatre, 213 Broadway, Long Beach. Wednesdays-Thursdays, 7 p.m.; Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Nov. 10 and 17, 2 p.m. Nov. 13, 7 p.m. Ends Nov. 17. $20. (562) 432-1818. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes.

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