The elusive peace and soul restoration of a fragrant lemon grove lets the characters of Howard Korder’s “In a Garden” speak wistfully of their common humanity.
Yet, the tragedy that so little is truly shared or mutually understood is what will keep you mulling upon this exquisite Red Orchid production.
The action takes place in a fictional Middle Eastern country called Aquaat that bears a very strong resemblance to the one we know as Iraq circa Bush 1 and Clinton Year 1. There we meet the Minister of Culture (Rom Barkhordar) who prides himself on his mastery of American culture from his years at Wharton Business School. We hear him rhapsodize about American films and his heartstrings being plucked by “The Dead Poets Society” or “The Little Mermaid”. But we also hear his wonderment at why his one-time American girlfriend now lifts weights and the lingering question he has as to why his architect remains childless.
Similarly, the Minister of Culture baffles his would-be architect (Lawrence Grimm) with references to perfect suits for circumcision ceremonies, the myriad uses of wives and mistresses, and most of all his reluctance to proceed on building the gazebo that this architect with big plans has drawn for him.
Two hours zoom past portraying this decade. In each encounter egos clash on whether Othmon, the Minister of Culture, is a patron or a client. How fitting that the American’s first wife was an editor of “Self” magazine while the Aquaati man takes a “very fat” third wife only to seal family ties and further political agendas. How fitting that the American architect first attempts to discuss the merits of concrete and ribar structures that he detests with an impersonal objective tone when all he really wants to do is rant at its pure ugliness.
We also meet the dictator (Najid, Emilio G. Robles) reeking more of Idi Amin’s murderous bluster than the more predictable dictators of any one of those in today’s Middle East. We meet him and we wish we had not.
The script by Howard Korder is midwifed to life by Lou Contey’s very able directions that contour the action to Red Orchid’s intimate space. We quickly learn to love that the stagehands wear Aquaati garb and never fail to bow to the portrait of their fearless leader during set changes. When architect or Minister of Culture look out at the place where the summer house and lemon grove can be built they are just an arm’s length away and we want to deck our heads so that they can see the vista more clearly.
In the end, we learn just how little the architect had understood all along.
This is no surprise to anyone who has traveled to a very foreign land and tried to connect using a timeworn shout of “Michael Jordan” or “Al Capone” to say “I’m from Chicago”. The longer we stay the more we get that we don’t really get it at all. “In a Garden” we hear the newscasts that our TVS have droned for decades now.
Is “Arab Spring” a tagline made for U.S. consumption or something else again to those who actually live it? Go see “In a Garden” and then ask yourself this question.
“In a Garden”
A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 North Wells, Chicago
April 4, 2013 – May 19, 2013
Tickets: $25 - $30, ask about student discounts
Box office: (312) 943 – 8722, www.aredorchidtheatre.org
Photos: Michael Brosilow