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American Arcana

American Arcana review in Austin Chronicle

AMERICAN ARCANA It's just over two (!) years `til the millennium strikes, and those who feed on grim tales of human depravity are in for a treat. Those already weary of the hype should buck up and prepare for the worst. Fortunately, this isn't it. American Arcana depicts a bleak near future, a world in which cynicism and uncertainty are the only constants. Penned by Cyndi Williams as "an apocalyptic comedy," American Arcana (an arcana is an archive of secret things) chronicles the gradual erosion of our morals, institutions, and civility in a series of monologues and dialogues by an array of characters. The play offers a glimpse at a future that might be, a reality so dark it is only a shadow away. It is a world in which the rantings of a paranoid politician stir public sympathy, a gospel singer finds comfort in her outrageous belief that she is the Virgin Mary, and even a sacred ritual like marriage is not without hostility and recklessness. Not surprisingly, right-wingers take it on the chin here. But Williams' tale holds caution for us all. Radio, television, the cult of celebrity - these are the true agents of alienation, wedging out our individuality, extinguishing the spark of human connection. In this production - the ambitious first effort from Austin Script Works, a promising company founded by playwright/ director Emily Cicchini and playwright/UT professor David Mark Cohen to nurture new plays - some of the scenes capture the bitter mix of isolation and suffering Williams hoped to convey. Lisa Hargus' drunken bout with an estranged God, which could easily fall into slurring and sputtering clich?, manages to be harrowing and poignant. Guilford Adams, in two powerful monologues as the Son, brings a gentle touch to the surrounding harshness of the production. Perhaps it is the solo performances which best illustrate the quiet desperation Williams was striving to capture. Throughout the rest of her play, Williams maintains a nice ear for human nuance and an understanding of our often contradictory need for independence and community, but in attempting to capture something epic, she stumbles a bit: too many scenes, too much abstruse symbolism, so many actors that it's all but impossible to keep them straight, especially when they reappear as different characters. Although some deft direction by Christina J. Moore make its thirtysomething scene transitions smooth, the play, unwisely stretched over three acts and two intermissions, is still way, way too long. Williams would be well advised to hone the piece down, to whittle away the excess and let the heart of the tale - in all its divine grimness - shine. (Sarah Hepola) Through Dec 21, Thu-Sat, 8pm, Sun, 5pm, at The Public Domain, 807 Congress. Tickets: $10 Thu/Sun; $12 Fri/Sat ($2 discounts seniors, students, ACoT). 454-TIXS.

©2007 Guilford Adams. All rights reserved.