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Terrific Action All Around Bolsters The Strength Of Margulies' Writing



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Terrific Action All Around Bolsters The Strength Of Margulies’ Writing

By Julie Stern

NEW HAVEN — Nine years ago, under a commission from the Actors Theater of Louisville, Pulitzer Prize winning New Haven playwright Donald Margulies wrote July 7, 1994, a powerful one-act play about a day in the life of a young woman physician who works at a free clinic for the poor.

This year Long Wharf commissioned Margulies to write a companion piece. He came up with Last Tuesday, about a group of Metro-North commuters whose ride home is interrupted by a bizarre occurrence.

What ties the two works together and gives them added resonance is the interplay between the immediate concerns of the characters and the media’s relentless and pervasive focus on deadly violence.

July 7, 1994 takes place at the height of the O.J. Simpson murder trial, when lurid details of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman flooded not only the papers and the airwaves, but also the very psyche of America. The O.J. Case, with all its ramifications including the degree of racial polarization it revealed across the country, works its way into the lives and minds of Kate, the doctor, and her angry and embittered patients.

From the exhausted cleaning woman cut off from the children she supports back in Puerto Rico and the battered common-law wife who was stabbed while preventing her boyfriend from beating her children to the aggressive and obnoxious bipolar patient who hits on her because he resents her having the family he doesn’t and the single mother dying of AIDS who refuses to make long term plans for her children, the people Kate sees in the clinic are angry and ungrateful.

In part their recalcitrance is a reflection of the racial and sexual hostility stirred up by the trial that they all watch and talk and read about. It is also a product of the deep fissures that poverty, inequality and ignorance have created in our society.

For Kate each frustrating day at the office is an ordeal that triggers nightmares and a nagging sense of dread. But all this is magically dissipated, at least for a few blessed moments by a wonderful closing scene.

The opening play, Last Tuesday, was written in response to September 11. A tightly wrapped woman boards the New Haven train and sits reading The New York Times while four other evening commuters take the remaining seats: a yuppie couple on the way home from their respective jobs, a young woman in headphones reading The Lovely Bones, and a businessman arguing with his wife via cell phone.

While the yuppies try to synchronize their Palm Pilots to accommodate their busy family schedules, a disembodied voiceover reads snippets from The Times – descriptions of the bodies being carried out of the Trade Center, accounts of suicide bombings in Jerusalem, and shootings on the West Bank.

With the mysterious appearance of a kind of ghostly apparition – a barefoot, bleeding child covered in white plaster dust that enters the car – the five passengers and the conductor are moved to abandon their self-absorbtion in an attempt to comfort him.

The acting is terrific, and for many of the principals this is a tour de force in their ability to assume such radically different roles from one play to the next. In particular Divina Cook as the cheery train conductor and the depressed, non-English speaking cleaning woman; Gwendolyn Mulamba as the yuppie mother chattering in French to her au pair, and then switching to the sullenly aggressive battered woman; Scott Sowers as the yuppie father and the libidinous bipolar bad patient; and Vickie Tanner who went from the quiet reader to the woman with AIDS.

Dana Reeve was also good as the doctor and the woman reading The Times, though there was less room for diversity there, and Bruce McCarty went from the boorish husband on the train to the marvelously sensitive and loving one in the second play.

Together the two plays seem to represent the playwright’s belief in the possibility of redemption through the human capacity for adults to care for children. In a world where rage and jealousy have temporarily blinded too many people, and where money and possessions have made others become self-absorbed, we are still capable of pity and compassion, and can take delight in a child’s capacity for wonder.

(Performances continue, Tuesday through Sunday, until May 11. Call 203-787-4282 or visit www.LongWharf.org for details.)

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