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Review by Chad Jones of The Oakland Tribune, published October 1, 2001

Shotgun Players take a whole new "Approach" to love
Three 1/2 Stars - Enigmatic enlightenment

By Chad Jones
The Oakland Tribune

Four nameless characters wander through a nameless landscape conversing about one thing: love.

They talk about many things - comfort, happiness, nourishment, loneliness, protection, frogs and scorpions - but as is the case in real life, all topics revert to love.

Such is the indirect approach of Susan Wiegand's beguiling new play ``Approach," the latest production from the Shotgun Players. Shotgun has mounted this play twice in conjunction with other short plays, but now Wiegand's 90-minute meditation on human attraction and connection is on its own at the Eighth Street Studio Theatre in Berkeley.

The world is crowded with explorations of love, romance and rejection, but there's always room for one more, especially if, like ``Approach," it is a thoughtful blend of intelligence and art suffused with a healthy dose of humor.

With sensitive direction by Katie Bales Frassinelli and sturdy performances by a likeable quartet of actors, Wiegand's play is a nimble dance through expressionism, realism and romanticism.

A serious yet lyrical tone is set from the very first scene. A young woman (Marin Van Young) in a red dress sits atop a large wooden trunk. A young man (Brent Rosenbaum) appears playing a guitar and is joined by an older man (Aaron Lucich), also playing a guitar. An older woman (Mary Eaton Fairfield) begins to sing Nick Drake's pensive ``Which Will." Soon enough the whole cast is singing about the choices that need to be made when it comes to love.

What becomes clear from this first scene is that even if the play tanks (which it won't), the creative team has excellent taste in music.

The younger couple is left alone on stage, and the woman eagerly asks the man, ``Are you the one?" And he replies, ``I'm alone, if that's what you mean."

This may be an existential musing but Wiegand wisely allows room for laughs.

The scenes that follow are a series of mixed duets set against what look like four columns of jagged marble (set by Michael Frassinelli).

In one scene, the young man gently kisses the older woman and shares bread, an apple and knock-knock jokes with her.

In another, the older man and older woman indicate a shared history through their familiar conversation and their passionate kissing.

The younger woman, desperate to find ``the one," latches onto the older man because he's rich. If he's not her soul mate, at least he can provide her and her future children with comfort and security. ``As if security existed at all," says the younger man in a jealous pique.

The older couple separates, leaving the older woman hurt and rejected. ``But I won't take it personally," she says but not without some difficulty.

All four actors bring exactly the right kind of performance energy to this chamber piece. Van Young and Rosenbaum as the younger couple keep their innocence and eagerness from being cloying, while Lucich and Fairfield as the older couple convey experience with a sense of still-unfolding, still-painful discovery.

Fairfield delivers an extraordinary monologue when she discovers that the older man is going to marry the younger woman. Betrayal and jealousy quickly give way to resignation. ``I will miss you," she tells the man at the start of her good-bye speech. He clings to her as she speaks. She does not cling back.

The play's ongoing metaphor involves a frog that carries a scorpion on its back across a river. The frog is apprehensive of the scorpion's sting, but the scorpion reassures the frog that such a sting would be silly because the frog would die and the scorpion would drown. Sure enough, halfway across the river, the scorpion stings the frog. With his last words, the dying frog asks the drowning scorpion, ``But why did you do that?" And the answer comes, ``Because I am a scorpion."

``Approach" sees women as the frog and men as the scorpion, but the wonderful thing about the play is the way the characters are allowed to re-interpret and re-design the metaphor to suit their individual needs. Apparently the vagaries of love require fluidity in figurative language.

The characters in ``Approach" speak in a kind of grounded poetry, a semi-formal dialogue that heightens the sense of dramatic artifice. We may not expect these people to exist outside of their on-stage limbo, but we recognize and begin to feel, with each succeeding scene, that their questions, passions and pains are our own.


You can e-mail Chad Jones at or call (925) 416-4853.


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