Sunday, July 20, 2008

Dance at Bataan

So far as dances go, Blake Bradford's Dance at Bataan is more or less a cha-cha: two steps forward, two steps back. On the back step, there are unsteady actors who look like they're being put through the paces, and a plot that covers way too much ground (PTSD may be the subject of Hannah's dissertation, but it's got little to do with the play). This rush of development forces the actors to show actions rather than to act on them: Jim Heaphy twitches his left arm and quivers his voice to show Mr. Edward's reluctance to speak with Hannah, and Christine Vinh gets so bogged down in playing Hannah as "a cold-hearted bitch" that she never shows any emotion. Moving forward, Blake's parallel story, a glimpse at Mr. Edward's experiences at Bataan (where one out of seven US POWs died)--is surprisingly comic, and the acting is sharp, though still too dispassionate for a dance. Blake's direction is often more emotional than the actors: though he stretches the imagery with too much repetition (Claire haunted by her husband, Marvin, and Hannah inexplicably visited by Tokyo Rose), this otherworldly presence (especially the violent Japanese soldiers, who are shown by pantomimed reactions) pulls good performances out of the actors, particularly Sarah Hankins, who doubles as Chris and Claire. Pick up the tempo, watch that posture, and tighten up the routine (by which I mean the steps of the plot), and Dance at Bataan may merit an encore.

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