Thirty years ago, give or take, a MacArthur genius and all round good guy, Bill Irwin, brought his "Regard of Flight" to what was then the dinky little Taper, Too, located in the underbelly of The John Anson Ford Theatre. Irwin's clowning and great physical skills tell a somewhat discombobulated story that really doesn't matter. It's the bits that kept the audience in stitches and the show moving at a good clip. For some reason.. and my memory is a bit hazy here, Bill's character is being chased relentlessly by another guy, the Nasty Critic, (M.C. O'Connor) wielding a huge pencil to take a swing at Bill if he can catch him. The chase leaps off the stage and around the audience and back up onto the stage and round and round. There is a small trampoline at the apron of the stage that both Bill and the Critic do not see or choose to ignore. Someone shouts "Use the Device!! Use The Device!!!" and theatre folks know that a device is anything that helps to move the plot along no matter how obvious it might be. The chase continues and then, Bill discovers the 'device' and bounces like anything onto the stage and the Critic follows in Hot Pursuit. Bouncing! The bouncing device works and the audience is in stitches and I can't remember how the chase ends, but later the same guy sang "Home in Pasadena," which I really enjoyed.
Wendy Graf's "Closely Related Keys" in its debut at the International City Theatre in Long Beach opens with a "device" that troubles me. Strains of Rimsky- Korsokov's Scherhezade Suite rise from a shadowy figure "playing" a violin in head scarf and draperies perhaps to remind us that Bagdhad used to be the home of magic, jin and the Thousand and One tales of the Arabian Nights. This device is clearly not produced by the figure on the stage. The moment quickly comes and goes but is a device that simply fails in the first moments of the production. For me, it set a tone that continued throghout the play.
A skyline rising above the beautiful set is enhanced with abstract Twin Towers: an echo of the tragedy of September 11, 2001.
This modern apartment is the abode of Julia, (Sidney A. Mason) a gorgeous young black woman attorney whose escalating cries of ecstacy are heard at rise. Julia's partner in this morning sexual romp is Ron (Nick Molari), who, surprisingly emerges from the covers in his skivvies He is also an attorney who not only shares Julia's bed but is also a rising star in their big New York law firm.
Julia's phone rings. It's her dad, Charlie (Oscar Best) who insists that he has news that can't wait.. Here we discover the argument of the play. How the term Closely Related Keys is a factor must be explained in the text. The music we hear as the play begins reflects the story of a Love Child: Nylo, (Mehmaz Mohammadi) whom Julie's father, created in Iraq when stationed there twenty or so years ago. Nylo is coming to the United States ostensibly to audition to study at Julliard. She found Charlie on Face Book! Certainly, Charlie insists, Julia must embrace her Muslim sister whom she has learned about two minutes ago and here in lies the rub. Julia is busy. Very. And, has Muslim issues.
|Mehrnaz Mohammadi and Sydney A. Mason|
Photo by Andrew Hofstetter
Charlie, is an African American in his sixties who did a tour in Iraq. He left his American family and in Iraq found Iraqi love. Julia and her African American mother were left to fend for themselves. When Julia was eighteen, her mother was working in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. She did not survive.
Julia was then left to pull herself up by her own bootstraps, eventually, to become an attorney: a dedicated and rising star. Her passionate lover we meet with her in bed is a senior attorney in the same law firm. Here is a minor conflict that becomes a side note to the essence of Julia having to deal with her unwelcome and stressful family situation.
Nylo arrives earlier than expected to find Julia totally unprepared for a house guest, especially a new sister who is wrapped in Muslim trappings; speaking acceptable but marginal English.
We are now confronted with mixed feelings that include knowing it was Muslim terrorists who murdered Julia's mother and Charlie's sincere and isistant pressure for Julia to open her home and her busy life to Nylo, her fleshandbloodsister.
Guilt trip 101.
The sisters eventually come to know each other. One moment of great energy comes through music? Closely Related Keys? Julia recalls singing along with the Supremes and her mother."Stop in the Name of Love..." Mason is momentarily transcendent! Then, Nylo bursts forth with Michael Jackson's "Billy Jean."
A serious side issue with Nylo adds mystery.
The divided story of Julia achieving her goals as an important attorney and the conflict of being part of a family that she never knew existed roll out somewhat predictably. Julia's career as an attorney becomes a marginal grace note, while the family story emerges clumsily with effort. The actors are committed, but tentative: the men more unsure than the women. A final scene and predictable resolution at Ground Zero wrap up the introduction of the women and allow us to hope for a family future.
Stephanie Karley Schwartz's set with lights by Donny Jackson serve seamless transitions. Direction by Saundra McClain lacks imagination.
CLOSELY RELATED KEYS
By Wendy Graf
International City Theatre
330 S. Seaside Way
Long Beach, California 90802
Tickets and information:
Traffic to Long Beach may be avoided by checking train schedules from Union Station to Downtown Long Beach. It is a pleasant walk to the theatre from the end of the line. Islands at Pine and Seaside Way serves a decent burger a couple of blocks from $15.00 on site parking.