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A CurtainUp Review

The End of Civilization

As I write this review there are only two long weekends left to see The End of Civilization, George F. Walker's gripping new stage-noir thriller. It's too bad that so many of the best and most affordable theatrical experiences are here today and gone tomorrow. On the other hand, better briefly than not at all. The Sightline Stage Company is to be commended for mounting this entertaining and thought-provoking play by a prolific playwright well-known in his native Canada (Civilization won Canada's prestigious Dora award) but much less so in New York.

Civilization fits into Walker's suburban motel cycle of plays in that it is also set in a typical sterile budget motel. It differs from its predecessors in that its focus is on a middle class couple instead of people from a lower economic spectrum. The current grey and beige motel room's occupants are Henry and Lily Cape (Bryan Johnson and Sarah Brockus), a suburban couple who became exiles from the good life when Henry lost his middle management job. Two years of unsuccessfully looking for work at least somewhat commensurate with his previous position have brought them to a low ebb emotionally as well as financially. Henry is a seething cauldron of pent up anger. Lily is desperate to keep their house from being taken over by the bank. She's left their two children with her sister to be with him in this motel on the outskirts of her home town during a sort of last-stand to regain their hold on marital and economic security. (The locale is here identified as Boston, though it could be anywhere U.S.A. or Canada).

Some years back when downsizing was epidemic and before the current comeback of jobs, accounts of couples like the Capes appeared in many publications. What makes their story absorbing even without direct ties to the current state of the economy is that it's less about their struggle to cope with unemployment than the depths to which a situation like this can bring some individuals. Walker has cleverly spun this descent into the lower depths of civilized behavior into a mystery which also involves two homicide cops and the woman in the room next to the Capes. To reveal the plot would spoil the suspense but I won't give anything away with these details about the three other players. The partnership of the soft-spoken Detective Max Malone (Mick Weber) and less emotionally grounded Detective Donny Deveraux (Lou Sumrall) is as troubled as Lily and Henry's marriage. Sandy (Jamie Heinlein), the woman next door, is as obviously a prostitute as her brown, blonde and red coiffures are wigs. The fact that al five actors are top-notch contributes mightily to the pleasures of watching this play. There are additional assets:

Walker's hit-home dialogue (the all stops out interchanges between Henry and Lily and two scenes between Sandy and Donny are particularly incisive) and his ability to draw you into his characters' frustration.

I>The effective structuring of the dramatic arc into flashbacks and flashforwards , cleverly differentiated through Tyler Micoleau's shift from light to blackout scenes.

Except for the last ten minutes where the tension built up during the previous hour and a half seems to falter and flag somewhat, director Randy White has given the play just the right edge of the seat tautness.

In keeping with the company's mission to present plays that inspire debates on compelling social themes, this new noir thriller has been paired with four staged free readings of George Bernard Shaw's comedy, Widowers' Houses -- the pairing designed to express two viewpoints on the relationship of the corporate and working class in different eras.

previous Off-Broadway review of a George F. Walker play
High Life,

another recent Canadian import we liked

By George F. Walker
Directed by Randy White
With Bryan Johnson, Mick Weber, Lou Sumrall, Sarah Brockus, Jamie Heinlein
Set design: Lauren Helpern
Costume design: Beth Lasley
Lighting design: Tyler Micoleau
Sound design: Susan Williams
Presented by Sightline Stage Company at Raw Space, 529 W. 42d St. (726-3588)
Performances Thursdays through Sundays only
Tickets $12 or TDF vouchers
The free staged readings of WIDOWERS' HOUSES are Monday and Wednesday, 2/01 and 2/03; and Monday and Tues, 2/01 and 2/09
1/22/99-2/14/99; opened 1/25/99
Seen 1/31/99 and reviewed 2/1/99 by Elyse Sommer

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