BWW Reviews: FALSE SOLUTION Actors Need To Slow Down To Let The Story Build
In FALSE SOLUTION, Anton Seligman (Daniel J. Travanti) is a renowned architect, working on his designs for a new Holocaust museum to be built in Poland. He encounters Linda Johansson (Amanda Saunders), a beautiful young intern and first-year architecture grad student, who challenges his conceptions. The tensions created by their differing ideas are complicated by their mutual attraction to each other: The lovely young woman is drawn to this man by his accomplishments and influential position in addition to his considerable personal charm; He, in his turn, is stimulated by her beauty, vitality, and probing intellect. Given the subject matter of the project, identity politics are also part of the mix.
The notion of a Holocaust museum on Polish soil would be controversial enough. The addition of generational divides, sexual politics, and strong opposing wills make for an incendiary mix. Will the two architects be able to design this new work to honor the memories of those who were lost and those who survived? Or will their attractions and conflicts ultimately scuttle their monumental undertaking?
An even better question would be, can these two talented actors slow down enough to allow the audience to understand what they are saying? The breakneck speed at which both deliver their lines had me wondering if they even wanted us to know what they were saying, given the "just stand there and talk as fast as you can" direction by Oren Safdie, who also wrote the play. Perhaps his knowledge of the words is so innate that he forgot the audience is hearing them for the first time and needs time to allow their meaning to sink in before rushing onto the next sentence. Or perhaps the goal is to present the play in 75 minutes with no intermission, so talk as fast as you can. For the sake of understanding the characters and the meaning of their words, please SLOW DOWN.
It is also unfortunate that during several of the quietest, soul-searching moments between the characters, loud voices and heavy footsteps could be heard from the adjacent theater, offering even more distraction from following the storyline.
There is some humor watching the two characters dance around their mutual attraction, she being more direct and he being unwilling, at first, to acknowledge it. You can feel the sparks fly when they slowly approach each other, but it seems the build up is more exciting than any actual physical contact between them. Perhaps like the monument they are creating, the planning is more exciting than the actual completion of the building.
The last 20 minutes of the play are, however, worth rushing to get to as that is when both actors let their guard down and allow us to experience their inner demons full force. Amanda Saunders is especially riveting recalling her family members' ordeal during the Holocaust and dealing with their treatment after returning to Poland following the war. She exemplifies that as long as survivors of survivors are alive, the long-term effects of the Holocaust will resonate in their souls.
Linda, with her Norse father and Eastern European Jewish mother, revels in the fact that no one knows she is Jewish, making her work even harder to gain the recognition so well deserved by the 6 million that perished. Linda is in awe of Anton before she meets him and knows she will be a great tease to Anton's libido. Saunders uses her power to great effect, playing the role of Muse to the hilt while trying to break Anton out of his emotional straightjacket.
Daniel J. Travanti is best known for his portrayal of Captain Frank Furillo on "Hill Street Blues," for which he received two Emmys and a Golden Globe Award. His fame certainly sparked my interest in seeing FALSE SOLUTION. As Anton, he is the child of a Jewish father but not really raised to be a traditional Jew. "I'm not even circumcised," he admits to his own embarrassment. But his tie to the Holocaust is through his first wife, a living survivor who ran when anyone close by spoke German, while taking great joy in the smallest things. Travanti gave many more examples, but rushed through them so quickly I cannot remember what they were.
When Anton finally breaks down during the play's epilogue, Travanti allows us to see how his deep emotional connection to Linda still runs his life - at least for the moment he allows himself to remember. Then the straitjacket goes on again, and all is lost.
FALSE SOLUTION is the third in a series of plays set by Oren Safdie in the world of architecture, following PRIVATE JOKES, PUBLIC PLACES and THE BILBAO EFFECT. The current production at the Santa Monica Playhouse, located at 1211 4th Street in Santa Monica, runs April 24- May 11, 2014, on Thurs.- Sat. at 8:00, Sun. at 5:00. ADMISSION: $25. RESERVATIONS: (800) 838-3006.
ONLINE TICKETING: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/588251
Photo credit: Cai Dixon.
Amanda Saunders and Daniel J. Travanti
Amanda Saunders and Daniel J. Travanti
Daniel J. Travanti and Amanda Saunders