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Continental Divide
by Lizzie Loveridge

Sheldon: How can they not know what I think?
Don: Because this has been an exceptionally well-run campaign.

Continental Divide
Robynn Rodriguez as Ash and Terry Layman as Michael Bern
(Photo: Ken Freidman)
Continental Divide is the umbrella title for David Edgar's pair of plays, Mothers Against and Daughters of the Revolution about the current state of US politics. Whilst most of political theatre in the UK is obsessed with the Iraq War, the Bush-Blair relationship and the suicide of Dr David Kelly, David Edgar takes the longer term view. At three hours each, the twinned plays with an overlapping cast, are slow and dense, wordy rather than dramatic, and light only on humour. These plays were co-commissioned from the British playwright and co-produced by the Berkeley Repertory Theatre and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Mothers Against is a picture of the Republican contingent in a gubernatorial election. It looks at principle and the extent to which a candidate will or will not go to win an election and the pressures on him to be expedient or to tell a lie. Sheldon Vine (Bill Geisslinger) is a good man, the latest candidate in a family dynasty of timber merchants and Republican governors. His dreadlocked daughter Deborah (Christine Williams) is involved with a New Age "Trees are people too" revolt and is sure to break with Republican family tradition. Sheldon's campaign manager Don D'Avanzo (Michael Elich) and campaign chair, his brother and sibling rival, Mitchell Vine (Tony DeBruno) feel their candidate doesn't want to win. Demographic changes have meant that the Latino vote could swing the vote one way or the other.

Daughters of the Revolution is concerned with the Democratic party in the same election. Here these elders of the party are portrayed in the light of their political activism of the 1960s and, in what the publicists call a thriller, one man tries to find out who betrayed their revolutionary group almost forty years before. Michael Bern (Terry Layman) gets an unusual birthday present of a copy of his FBI file which starts his quest to investigate a failed kidnap attempt to release an imprisoned activist. Edgar tries to show what has become of the radicals of the 1960s, how they have compromised and changed.

The parts which work best are the snippets of the television campaign and the rehearsal for the television debate when the Republican candidate Sheldon Vine (Bill Geisslinger) is pitted against one of his own party workers, Lorianne Weiner (Susannah Schulman), who role plays the opposing Democratic contender. This insight into the political process rivals some of the moments in The West Wing.

The set for Mothers is rather mundane, more like a Marriott lobby than the sitting room of a private home. Daughters has more scope for imaginative sets, one in the forest where tree people scale down trunks, another in a church but these plays do not lend themselves to experiments in the visual. However the video and TV footage is well executed and feels authentic. The performances are nicely judged and the direction is fine but the overall feeling one has on seeing these weighty plays is one of being crushed rather than inspired or stimulated, and I am afraid that is down to the British playwright.

Continental Divide
Written by David Edgar
Directed by Tony Taccone

With: Vilma Silva, Michal Elich, Robynn Rodriguez, Derrick Lee Weldon, Christine Williams, Tony DeBruno, Bill Geissinger, Susannah Schulman, Terry Layman, Michelle Duffy, Jacob Min-Trent, Marielle Heller, Craig W Marker, Lorri Holt, Melissa Smith
Scenic and Projection Designer: William Bloodgood
Costume Designer: Deborah M Dryden
Lighting and Projection Designer: Alexander V Nichols
Sound: Jeremy J Lee
Music: Todd Barton
Running time: Each play: Three hours, each with one interval
Box Office: 0845 120 7550
Booking to 4th April 2004.
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 20th March 2004 Performance at the Barbican Theatre, Silk Street, London EC2 (Tube: Barbican)
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