BWW Review: Zeitgeist Stage Opens Curtain on Final Season With N.E. Premiere of VICUÑA

Vicuña

Written by Jon Robin Baitz; Direction & Scenic Design, David J. Miller; Costume Design, Elizabeth Cole Sheehan; Lighting Design, Michael Clark Wonson; Sound Design, J Jumbelic; Stage Manager, Kayla Heal

CAST (in order of appearance): Robert Bonotto, Jaime Hernandez, Steve Auger, Srin Chakravorty, Evelyn Holley

Performances through October 6 by Zeitgeist Stage Company at Boston Center for the Arts, Black Box Theater, 539 Tremont Street, Boston, MA; Box Office 617-933-8600 or www.zeitgeiststage.com

In news recently reported, sad to say that the 2018-2019 season will be Zeitgeist Stage Company's last, after seventeen years of notable productions as an acclaimed stalwart of the Boston fringe theater scene. Artistic Director David J. Miller has never shied away from plays that deal with controversial or highly charged political subject matter, and he is not about to change now as he stages his two final offerings. In the spring, Zeitgeist will present the world premiere of Trigger Warning, a play they commissioned by Jacques Lamarre, about the impact of a school shooting from the perspective of the shooter's family. Onstage now through October 6th at the Boston Center for the Arts, Miller directs the New England premiere of Jon Robin Baitz's Vicuña, a searing takedown of the current administration and its take-no-prisoners march from the nomination to the election.

Baitz has changed the names of the principals, but there is no doubt as to their identities. The candidate, Kurt Seaman (a frighteningly good Steve Auger) is an oversized, blustery, bald man, whose daughter is his campaign manager. One of the best gags in the play is her name (Sri-Lanka), but the audience takes a collective breath when Srin Chakravorty makes her entrance because of her strong resemblance to the actual first daughter. Seaman pays a visit to Anselm Kassar (Robert Bonotto), a Jewish bespoke tailor in New York City, to order a new suit, just three weeks before his final debate against "her." Kassar objects that Seaman has not allowed him enough time, but, against the objections of his apprentice Amir Masoud (Jaime Hernandez), agrees to put aside all other projects for a very, steep price.

As the story plays out, Baitz makes it quite clear that the true price of Kassar's decision has very little to do with money, and everything to do with the costs in personal terms for himself, Amir, Amir's immigrant parents, and the future of our country. If the tailors eventually regret contributing in any way to Seaman's advance, understanding that clothing "lends credibility...authority," it is more refreshing to the audience when Sri-Lanka awakens to the danger her father represents, and a late-in-the-game attempt by Kitty Finch-Gibbon (Evelyn Holley), the chair of the Republican National Committee, to influence the outcome with an unlikely offer.

Miller's direction is crisp and the performances are stellar, across the board, although Hernandez is a little soft-spoken. As scenic designer, Miller evokes the tailor's shop, complete with fitting rooms, and costume designer Elizabeth Cole Sheehan crafts some stylish attire for the women, as well as a "magical" suit for Seaman. Lighting design by Michael Clark Wonson and sound design by J Jumbelic are effective, especially for the debate scene near the end of the main body of the play. It should be noted that there is a somewhat lengthy epilogue that the playwright tacked on after the 2017 inauguration (entitled The American Epilogue).

There are a number of reasons for Miller's decision to call it a day at Zeitgeist Stage, and among them is what he refers to as "Trump fatigue." I don't doubt it, which causes me to question whether or not it is too soon (and too current) to stage Vicuña while we are in the midst of the firestorm. Peter Marks in The Washington Post referred to the play as a comedy that is "scaldingly funny," and my expectation was that it would be a biting satire that would affirm my liberal sensibilities. There are a few laugh out loud moments, but darkness rolls in like a tidal wave that relentlessly slams against the shore. By the end of the play, I felt myself gasping for air. Miller and company have done what they do best, staging a solid production that gives the audience plenty to talk about, but it would be better if it were a post-mortem.

Photo credit: Richard Hall/Silverline Images (Steve Auger)

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From This Author Nancy Grossman

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