After days of separation, following their arrest for drug trafficking, brothers David and Justin Cutler, and friend Beth Crowe are moved to adjacent cells of a Thai prison. Justin is the mentally challenged brother who is just happy to have his brother close enough to talk to again. David, having submerged himself in denial, is hoping against hope that the move means a possible reprieve. Beth, the realist who had spent her days alone in deep introspection, knows the move is because they are now just one door away from the gallows; because she asked. How they spend their last hours is the story of Sven Swenson’s play Beautiful Souls .
The trio, though aware of the hash they are transporting, become the unwitting “poster children for zero tolerance” by the Thai government when heroine is planted among their confiscated belongings at the airport. Appeals from their government and their families have failed to free them. All these three characters have is fading hope, waiting and each other.
The piece opens with a music box lullaby: “Bring me bright pictures of those that I love…” Beth (Emma Dean) sings a verse as she holds herself sitting on the floor. She has been spending her days, trying to remember everything she knows she’ll never see again. She is the one that tries to express everything she is feeling, to stay connected to the two men anyway she can, desperate to have nothing but true between them until the end. She speaks of having flexible morality with an educated tongue, making it all the more contradictory that she has ended up in this situation. Obviously, she knows better.
David (Jake Robards) is the one that wants to hide from his anger, from everything. He would rather pretend than have something real, because the reality is too frightening. At first he won’t respond to his brother's pleas to talk to him. He only answers to assign blame or deflect it. When Beth mentions she has never truly belong to someone, he offers himself. At least they can “pretend” for a while, for the time that is left. But Beth is not interested in pretending.
Ironically it is Justin (Luke Wright) who is the only character living in the now and that is of the quality to make this character a truly beautiful soul. He hears the same song in his head and sings a verse for himself, for Beth. He understands what is coming but doesn’t fear “the end”. Neither secrets David kept from him in the past, nor what will happen when the sun rises is very important compared to the idea that his brothers is sharing a hug with him against a common cell wall.
The cast of Beautiful Souls all do a fine job. Each actor conveys hopelessness, desperation and confinement anxiety with energetic, honest performances, without the luxury of actual eye or physical contact.
Swenson’s piece is an intense examination of what a person holds dearest at the moment of their death. All the pretense of society and defenses we put up so other people won’t see our fear, or can’t hurt us, are moot. Secrets that were so important to keep are the only thing of value in this hopeless situation. This play is about embracing the truth, however ugly, however uncomfortable it might be.
Beautiful Souls is running for five shows only beginning July 25th, 2007.
Hudson Mainstage Theatre
6539 Santa Monica Blvd
Hollywood, CA 90038 Ample Street Parking
Wed, Jul 25 – Sun, Jul 29
Weds, Thurs, Fri Sat 8pm
Running time: 55 minutes
For Reservations call: (323) 960-1057
Photo Credit: Michael Gottleib