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A CurtainUp Review
The Internationalist Travels to the Vineyard Theatre
By Elyse Sommer
All hands on deck, this ship is sinking
To the longboats boys, what were we thinking?
Sail round the world and back again
Right now, your my only friend
—from Josh Washburn song "My Only Friend" which begins and ends The Internationalist.
Zak Orth as Lowell and Anneie Parisse as Sara in The Internationalist
(Photo: Carol Rosegg )
If Anne Washburn were an entry in a thesaurus, words like ballsiness, chutzpah, moxie, audaciousness would pop up next to her name. Whole chunks of dialogue in The Internationalist are spoken in a language that has an odd Eastern European authenticity. Yet that language is strictly Ms. Washburn's invention, a sort of sophisticated version of the pig Latin that used to be a popular nonsense language among kids. No super titles. No occasional words to hint at what's being said. Just this Washburnspeak.
The title internationalist is Lowell, a young American in an unspecified business, on a business trip with an unspecified purpose, in an unidentified country whose language he does not speak. After a discombubulating rescheduling of his flight, what started out as a nightmare begins to look like a Hollywood fantasy come true when he's met by Sara, a beautiful young woman who works for the office he's visiting. But true to the old saw about things rarely being what they seem, the promise of becoming, at least temporarily, the star of an American abroad romantic adventure movie, turns into quite a different scenario. Sara is a file clerk and not really a colleague on his managerial level , the men and women who are his colleagues know how to speak English but seem to prefer their own lingo, making him the odd man out.
When Amanda Cooper reviewed The Internationalist during it's earlier permutation at the Culture Project on Bleeker street she found it intriguing and entertaining but was frustrated by the way it fizzled at the end. As she put it " I wanted more". Now that the play has been given a glossier production by the Vineyard Theater and the one act has been expanded to two, I found myself not wanting more as she did, but less. This despite a terrific acting sextet, all but two of whom are double cast: Annie Parisse as Sara reminding me as she did when I saw her at the Berkshire Theatre Festival (in Coastal Disturbances) this past summer, of a young Marian Seldes. . .Nina Hellman sublimely funny as a colleague and an anonymous woman. . .Zak Orth a delightfully uncomfortable American abroad trying to deal with his company's foreign staff played by Gibson Frazier (a holdover from the original production), Ken Marks and Liam Craig.
For me shorteninging rather than expanding this comic conceit would have been preferable but then this maybe one of those plays that people in their twenties find a hoot and people like me, who've been around long enough to have seen a lot of classics being revived during their much earlier runs, find a bit of a yawn. To prove my suspicion I had a call from Amanda Cooper telling me that she went to see the play with three visiting friends from northern Vermont— all, like her, in their twenties. All had a grand time and enjoyed seeing something quite different than anything that gets up to Montpelier's theater.
As for Amanda's own take on this revised version she actually liked the Vineyard version quite a bit. She thought Ken Rus Schmoll, who also directed at the Culture Center, increased the awkward pauses to the production's benefit. The fact that Zak Orth's Lowell was more vulnerable from the outset helped her to accept the admittedly anti-climactic ending. Maybe I too have to see this anti-climactic ending a second time to not scratch my head when Sara tells Lowell "Listen carefully, I'm going to tell you the truth" and then follows up with a paragraph of Washburn's invented language which, at this point, turns everything into gobbledygook and undoes the whole challenge of using the play to figure out just what it means to be alienated and at sea. Maybe the problem is not that this is a play to which only very young audiences can relate, but a case of an author not using her considerable talent to follow through on a good idea and write a play to challenge and appeal to all ages.
Current Production Notes
THE INTERNATIONALIST by Anne Washburn
Vineyard Theatre, 108 East 15th Street
Directed by Ken Rus Schmoll
Cast: Anneie Parisse (Sara), Zak Orth (Lowell), Liam Craig (James/Bartender), Gibson Frazier (Nicol/Guard), Nina Hellman (Irene/Anonymous Woman), Ken Marks (Simon/Paul).
Set Design: Andromache Chalfant
Costumes: Michelle R. Phillips
Lighting Design: Jeff Croiter
Sound Design: Robert Kaplowitz
From 10/19/06 to 11/26/06; opening 11/07/06.
Tue to Sat at 8pm; Sat & Sun at 3pm
— The Internationalist in its first permutation at the Culture Center, reviewed by Amanda Cooper.
So do you make now that you are here are lot of tourist? Or do you stay in your room at hotel and drink all of the time and order girls? ----James, a native who does not understand American syntax.
When traveling, it does not always behoove the American to say they are American. Indeed, the stereotypes that are correlated with the U.S. traveler are not flattering -- we are loud, and ultimately nightmarish tourists.
How clever, then, is Anne Washburn's newest play, The Internationalist, as it gives us an outsider view on both the uncomfortable state of the well-meaning American in a foreign land as well as the foreigners dealing with said American. Lowell, our hero (or anti-hero, depending on your perspective), played sincerely by Mark Shanahan, is on an business trip to an anonymous European country (references are made to some European-like culture and history, and a made-up Flemish-sounding language is often spoken). He begins on good behavior, and wants to make only the best impressions on his new colleagues. In a quietly funny, detached way, the relationships between Lowell and his co-workers become the story.
Though there's not much action, the characters' quirks and subtle office politics are entertaining and thought provoking. Our dear Lowell starts a steamy relationship with Sara (Heidi Schreck), the office's plebe, with the impression that she is more like an office equal. Sara does all she can to keep this impression alive. As Lowell is left in the dark by his new colleagues and this new country, he begins to fall apart.
Playwright Anne Washburn has an ear for awkward silences, and she uses this well throughout these cross-cultural communications. Director Ken Rus Schmoll strategically uses 45 Below's odd space with an encouraging, realistic flourish. Both lighting designer Garin Marschall and set designer Sue Rees use a humble budget well, adding great details to the production at just the right moments.
Travis York, who plays both a work colleague named James and a bartender, deserves special mention. James is incredibly confused by English (Washburn did a fabulous job writing his odd lines), and York's saavy timing provides half the laughs of the play.
Unfortunately, this entertaining one-act play fizzles out at the end, purposefully not providing the actors -- and thus the audience -- any closure. Perhaps the ending lends itself to realism, but ultimately, after sitting in a not too comfortable chair for a straight 90 minutes, I wanted something more.
The Internationalist is the inaugural production of 13P, a theater company founded by 13 playwrights who wanted their plays to have full productions, not just workshops and readings, etc. Over the next five years, 13P has committed to producing a full production for each of the 13 playwrights: Sheila Callaghan, Erin Courtney, Madeleine George, Rob Handel, Anne Marie Healy, Julia Jarcho, Young Jean Lee, Winter Miller, Sara Ruhl, Kate E. Ryan, Lucy Thurber, Anne Washburn and Gary Winter.
By: Anne Washburn
Directed by Ken Rus Schmoll
Cast: Mark Shanahan, Heidi Schreck, Gibson Frazier, Kristen Kosmas, Travis York, Michael Strumm
Music by: Melineh Kurdian
Set Design: Sue Rees
Lighting Design: Garin Marschall
Costume Design: Jessica Gaffney
Sound Design: Matthew Given
Running Time: Ninety Minutes, no intermission
45 Bleecker Theater at 45 Below, 45 Bleecker Street at Lafayette
4/17/04 to 5/08/04
Thursdays - Saturdays, 8pm; Sundays at 7pm; Saturday may 1 and 8 at 2pm.
Tickets are $15
Reviewed by Amanda Cooper based on April 18 performance