Rubaiyat is haunted. Formerly a slave plantation, now a modern Louisiana crawfish farm, Rubaiyat is haunted by the living and the by the dead.
Nathalie Robillard (Toyin Moses) is haunted with the dread that she will be forced to assume responsibility for a family legacy that she does not want. While her father recovers from a heart attack, Nathalie crafts an exit strategy by teaching her brother Christophe (Tarnue Massaquoi) how to run the plantation, by interviewing for jobs that will take her far away from home, and by agreeing to marry long-time boyfriend and fellow academic, Philippe (Dorian Christian Baucum).
Rubaiyat is haunted by the desperation of wise and spirited patriarch LJ Robillard (Alex Morris), who fears that his children are either unwilling or unsuitable heirs to the family estate. He sees the ghost of the plantation’s former slave master Captain Burnside (Michael Harrity) nightly and worries for his children’s ultimate happiness.
Where to begin?
Let’s start with the script. Way too long. Good idea. Nice twists, but way too much fat. Playwright Kimba Henderson has good characters and several passages of very nice language use. However, the script meanders for three-acts and three-plus hours. The plot lacks focus. As a result, so do the performances. It is not always necessary for the characters to say exactly what they are feeling; that is the actors’ job. In the case of this particular script, less could be much more.
The direction needs a lot of work. The staging is all over the place. The characters in this story don’t move about this space as if it were their home. The performances feel very much like actors were hitting their mark. Actors were moving about the space, not with motivated intention, but by direction. Lots of lines were delivered straight to the audience during scenes, when other performers were on stage with each other. It was weird.
John Paul Luckenbach has crafts a thoughtful lighting design. Similarly, Luckenbach’s set design is filled with potential. The stage was extended beyond the proscenium to create a front lawn where all but one entrance was made from stage right. However, there is a three-foot gag in this extended thrust stage, a gap that is conspicuously treacherous for actors to traverse getting to the main stage. My guess would be that the production is working around a safe or fire issue. But it is a poor compromise. Surely there is a better, more practical solution to get around, or perhaps even enhance this particular production choice.
I’m going to blame the performances on the accent. The actors were required to perform their roles with a Southern, sometimes Cajun accent. The use of the accents changed the line delivery, which in turn flavored every character with an unfortunate Southern dignified self-righteousness. This cast simply was not “in their bodies”; the emotional intent was there, the lines were there, but these performers did not seem to physically embody the characters they played. Everything was mannered, too deliberate. It was like watching opera without the music. That having been said, Alex Morris and Tanya Lane manage to eek out credible performances in a show filled with lots and lots of “acting.”
The Reckoning was developed through the Robey Theatre Company Playwrights Program and it is easy to see why. Henderson’s premise and story elements are great seed with which to explore issues of heritage and race through a contemporary lens. The play has the makings of the next great American drama. Its only flaw is self-indulgence.
Just one girl’s opinion…
The Reckoning is open now and runs through October 24, 2010 at:
Los Angele Theatre Center
514 S. Spring Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Thursday, Friday, Saturday @ 8pm
Sunday @ 3pm. Dark Oct 9th.
Admission: $30. Students: $20. Previews: $15
A Limited number of tickets will be available for each Thursday Performance for $10.
Reservations: (866) 811-4111
Photo Credit: Carlos San Miguel