Struggling Truths | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Struggling Truths 

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STRUGGLING TRUTHS, Prop Thtr. Prop deserves credit for mounting a play about ideas, specifically the battle between Buddhism and communism in Tibet. Unfortunately, playwright Peter Mellencamp is unequal to the subject, so ideology winds up sounding like parody: the communists are brutal and doctrinaire while the Buddhists are passive and paradoxical. Mellencamp's conventional historical drama (Dalai Lama escapes from occupied Tibet) and domestic melodrama (brother and sister take opposite sides in a civil war) are both overfamiliar. And the play hovers between realism and Brechtian alienation.

Scott Vehill's production is most successful in its nods to Mother Courage and Her Children and The Good Woman of Setzuan, with a narrator who pops in and out of the action and a portrait of political conflict in which everyone suffers and no one wins. But the script's weaknesses are exacerbated by Vehill's decision to stage it on a central runway, forcing audience members to spend the evening turning their heads back and forth like judges at Wimbledon. Emphasizing dichotomy is all very well, but it might be done without inducing motion sickness.

Jonathan Lavan's fine performance as the narrator is complemented by Jason Llamas's as the brother whose spiritual quest forms the play's arc. Llamas turns lines suitable for Luke Skywalker into something genuine--and genuinely touching. Other ensemble members have their moments but are mostly defeated by the text.

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