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|A CurtainUp Review
Saved or Destroyed
By Les Gutman
If I do the speech while eating a banana
it will come off satirical.
---Maurice, per Harry Kondoleon
In the theater, the word "angel" usually refers to a wealthy investor who comes through with the cash that enables a show to take flight. Keeping it aloft is another matter, and one that requires a different sort of heavenly ministration. As affectionately imagined by the direction of Craig Lucas (and as some of us may have imagined even before his untimely death), Harry Kondoleon is an angel of the latter sort.
Saved or Destroyed was the last play Kondoleon wrote; this is its first production. It would be easy to over-analyze it as the prescient work of a man staring death in the face, but the impish way Kondoleon meanders from the routine to the mystical has been the nature of his work from the beginning. Poet, artist, novelist and playwright, Kondoleon never permitted himself the luxury of being boxed into a single discipline, nor shackled to its rules -- a point underscored as the play begins. The effect of his work remains as unique as it is frustratingly indescribable. One can find references to other playwrights and their forms, but somehow Kondoleon's plays are no satires, never exactly absurd and not quite farces. What they are is funny, and strangely sweet -- invariably in a naughty way.
They are also most definitely not melodrama, but Kondoleon has a jolly good time penning the overwrought melodrama that serves as the play within his own play here. Saved or Destroyed is set at a rehearsal for the interior play (of the same name). It's about one of the poorer excuses for a family (more specifically, the families of two brothers) summering at the beach: Ivan (Larry Pine), his wife, Anne (Scotty Bloch), and daughter, Karin (Michi Barall) and Maurice (Ray Anthony Thomas), his wife, Lucille (Julie Halston) and son, Vincent (Michael Doyle). It considers, among many other apt subjects, miscarriages and abortions, the possibility of incest resolved by the revelation of an adoption and the importance of paying attention to the Bible.
All of this is rendered with the tender brutality we might call the Kondoleon touch. (E.g., "Even as a girl I liked nice things. That's why I killed butterflies.") Where else would we find a play with a séance and a male fertility dance, and think nothing of it?
But that's just the play being rehearsed. The one being performed is about a group of bitter actors with their own set of problems. As to them, Mr. Kondoleon has offered up himself as a spiritual guide, rendered quite literally angelic (in the person of David Greenspan, flitting about in a tinseled halo and unleashing glittery angel dust). These thespians need all the help they can get: their characters are defenseless as real life keeps spilling out of the play they are trying to rehearse. Is anything resolved on either plane? To quote Kondoleon: "Subjects are addressed and dropped as if they have solutions." It's one of those joyous, sloppy Kondoleon messes and I, for one, am struck by how much I miss them.
This production is the centerpiece of Rattlestick Theatre's Kondoleon Festival (details on other events in the separate box below and also at the theater's website, linked in the box immediately below). It features a most delicious cast, that does an amply fine job: vets like Scotty Bloch and Larry Pine; established performers like Julie Halston and Messrs.. Thomas and Greenspan as well as two relative newcomers, Ms. Barall and Mr. Doyle. A wonderful tribute.