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A CurtainUp Berkshires Review

Lucy and the Conquest

Don't you ever feel PISSED, pissed at history? --- Inca Man
I. . . I um have been living in LA. I was on TV. I don't think about history.---Lucy.
Playwright Cusi Cram mixes this one-liner style humor with more poetic interchanges as when the Inca Man, who represents all of Bolivia's Incas) defines the thoughts and memories that have drawn her back to her father's country as "the sound of an Andean pan pipe, hollowed out" and she agrees with her own lyrical definition "like. . .an echo in your heart.".

Cranwell Resort

Jeanine Serralles in Lucy and the Conquest
Jeanine Serralles as Lucy Santiago
(Photo: Allison Leger)
The term "kitchen sink" originated with an expressionist painting by John Bratby which contained an image of a kitchen sink. The term quickly migrated to the theater where it became the symbol for dramas which were staged with an eye to realistic set details. Cusi Cram's Lucy and the Conquest currently in its world premiere at Williamstown gives new meaning to that expression.

Cram's play is more fantastical than realistic, an absurdist comedy with some serious thematic undercurrents. Suzanne Agins and her design team have therefore given it an aptly and piquantly abstract staging complete with drop-down props and a magnificent carved bed that rises to reveal a wise character symbolizing all of Bolivia's Inca Men. The kitchen sink tag in Lucy Santiago's story applies to Cram's overly ambitious methodology of trying to juggle too many themes in one play or, true to her name, cramming it with everything but the kitchen sink: Paying tribute to her Bolivian father. . .  exploring her cultural identity issues and family connections. . . touching on the current disconnect she sees between South America, and the United States, not to mention the all too relevant thoughts currently triggered by the word conquest. Whew! All this, plus real and fantasy characters who careen between lyrical and maniacally absurd interchanges.

I wish I could report that Cram's play is a triumphant conquest of all these ideas. Cram does indeed have a well developed sense for the absurd -- especially in the second act scene when Lucy's television character a bikini clad forensic sleuth with a triple Ph.D. in a TV drama called Beach Detectives takes over the Bolivian excursion (which was prompted by her being fired for refusing to wear a skimpy yellow costume). There are also some pungent exchanges between Lila, the Santiago family housekeeper's daughter who has returned as a gun-toting conquistador after a stint as an airline stewardess and a lazy and lecherous family cousin known as the Gringo, a.k.a. Juan Alberto Santiago. Lila and the Gringo are bent on getting their hands on the fortune to which the surviving Santiago, an ancient and only occasionally lucid matriarch holds the key (literally).

Unfortunately, for much of the two hours the play seems to scream for a more coherent plot arc and fewer irrelevant scenes like Lucy and her California boyfriend's disastrous attempt at sadomasochistic sex to spark up their dead-end relationship. But while Cram clearly had fun working in the not so veiled parallels to the super successful TV serial whose main characters were also named Lucy and Ricardo, the overall attempt to send up the pill popping Hollywood life style has a been there, done that quality that doesn't mesh with the secondary theme about Bolivia's history as a nation . There's also a TV skit quality to the ultimate revelations about the relationship between Lucy, the Gringo and Lila.

Jeanine Serralles is well cast as the young woman who's drawn to her Bolivian home at a time her career and love life are at at a crossroads. As in the off-Broadway play, Hold Please (review), she once again makes the most of a fat part in a less than fully satisfying play. The supporting cast is also quite good, especially the two double role players. Bernard White is imposing as both Juan Ricardo Santiago, the distinguished ladies' man and ambassador, and the mysterious Inca Man. David Ross who first appears as Lucy's ineffective boyfriend, delivers an amusing monologue when he reappears as her gay agent.

In a program interview with the dramaturg, Ignacio Lopez, Ms. Cram admits that the desire to integrate her experience as the daughter of a Bolivian father with her experience in the United States remains "a sort of ongoing question." Something that's all too evident in this still not ready from prime time play.

Playwright: Cusi Cram
Director: Suzanne Agins
Cast in order of appearance: Jeanine Serralles(Lucy Santiago), David Ross (Tommy/Drew Gold), Bernard White (Juan Ricardo Santiago/Inca Man), Socorro Santiago (Pacha Santiago), Vanessa Aspillaga (Lila), Julian Acosta (The Gringo)
Set Design: Mimi Lien
Costume Design: Jennifer Caprio
Lighting Designer: Charles Foster
Sound Design: Rob Kaplowitz
Fight Choreographer: Ryan Karel
Running Time: 2 hours, plus 15-minute intermission
Nikos Stage, Williamstown Theatre Festival Williamstown
From July 12, 2006 to July 23, 2006
Tickets: $33, $35
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer July 16th matinee
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