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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Hercules at Normandie

By Joanna Perry-Folino

Every day is another chance to scratch the face of circumstance --- from "Every Day's A Day for Revolution" sung by Angelo, Osasami and James

Maria Richwine (Photo: Ed Krieger)
In an early scene in James Eric and Mark Kemble's highly charged political play with music, Charles "Hercules" Johnson, (Daryl Keith Roach) a muscular Black man appears on a cross above the altar during a Good Friday service and descends down into the congregation. This stunning visual metaphor enhanced by Victoria Bellocq's and James Eric's terrific set, is one of the highlights of a valiant effort on behalf of the playwrights to deal with disturbing aspects of a politically and socially divided America.

Class distinctions, the war in Iraq, the death penalty, the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church and its failure to bring spiritual sustenance to its believers along with inter-racial family secrets are all staged passionately, if perfunctorily, in an earnest attempt to make a difference and awaken America's conscience. For this, the cast and creators should be applauded.

The main story of a troubled Latino youth, Miguel (Eduardo Enrikez), recently returned from a stay of duty in Iraq, and his two friends, a gay hip-hop artist from Kentucky, James (In-Q) and a privileged rich girl, Osasami (Bethany Pagliolo) with a teenage crush on him holds promise. The three rally together to alert others to the propaganda of the U.S. Armed Forces in enlisting America's underprivileged youth for the war in Iraq. Their scenes together have the richness of ensemble acting, particularly when they sing "Jesus Was An Anarchist", "It's Hard to Say Goodnight" and "Every Day's A Day for Revolution""

Other original musical pieces include "Lethal Injection" and "Prison is Big Business", sung by incarcerated Black and Latino youths and a cold hearted warden on the eve of Hercules' execution. For the most part, the actors, despite occasionally strained' voices, handle the songs well and with conviction.

The major weakness, however, is the creative team's effort to cover too much ground and make too many political statements rather than to remain focused on the three main characters. Ideally they would have explored the individual stories and woven the political messages more organically into the whole. As it is, we never really understand any of the characters and are left somewhat confused by the muddled themes.

The idea that "we are all one" asserted by Hercules as he faces execution for murder falls flat since it's hard to believe the sudden "magical" enlightenment he attains from an angel trying to rid himself of wings. Transformation in a character provided by a Deus Ex Machina can only work logically if all other aspects of a production support it. In this case, the reality of thousands dead in Iraq and the corporate takeover of America are much too real and frightening for us to hope an angel can save us with a New Age message.

While promising, Hercules on Normandie is still something of a work in progress.

Hercules on Normandie
Playwrights: James Eric and Mark Kemble
Composers: Mario Padilla and Gordon Glor
Lyricists: James Eric, Mark Kemble, Mario Padilla and Gordon Glor
Cast: David Ari, Pierson Blaetz, Sufe Bradshaw, Frank Califano,Richard Chico, Gabe Dell Jr., Andrew Dominguez, Marcel Donea, Eduardo Enrikez,Tabitha Goodwin, Mark Gregg, IN-Q, Julie Janney, Paul Mabon, Bethany Pagliolo, James Rejent, Maria Richwine, Daryl Keith Roach, Jose Martin Ruano, A.J. Ruiz, Frank Salinas, Patrick Satcher, Diane Sellers Set Design: Victoria Bellocq and James Eric
Lighting Design: Jeremy Pivnick
Costume Designer: A. Jeoffrey Schoenberg
Running Time: Approx. 2 Hours with one 15 minute intermission
Running Dates: June 24 2006 to July 29, 2006
Where: Greenway Court Theatre, 544 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles (323) 655-7679 ext. 100
Reviewed by: Joanna Perry-Folino on July 8, 2006

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