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TO BE ... AN AMERICAN

REVIEW: THE CITY OF CONVERSATION

(c) Ryan M. Luevano.com

May 210, 2016



By Ryan M. Luévano

It's election season and you can tell because everyone and their dog is letting you know their polarized opinion on social media, whether you want to see it or not—that's our 21st century floor for debate. The Wallis' West Coast premiere of Anthony Giardina's play The City of Conversation, that spans 30 years and six presidential administrations, beginning in 1979, puts a suit, and a fancy dress on political discourse and puts it on display as political art. And through and through the play is still both relevant and thought provoking giving us a glimpse into a time where we listened to each others differing ideas.

 
A 'political play' may not everyone's cup of organic tea, but with Giardian's work there's more than politics at play—at the heart there's also a story about family, standing up for what you believe, and the inevitability of the past. Director Michael Wilson brings all these elements to light using all the theatrical devices as his disposal to make an audience of diverse political affiliations comfortable and intrigued. Wilson creates a cyclical movement with his actors, they move about the stage like chess pieces making the same moves from decade to decade until finally in the end the game is over.

Additionally, the use of projections by Hana Sooyeon Kim is a clever way to integrate technology and to transport the audience from 1979, 1987 to 2009. The scenic design by Jeff Cowie is impressive—he's constructed an immaculate home in Washington D.C. complete with crown mounding a, functional staircase, an upstage dining room and floor to ceiling French doors leading to a backyard.

Christine Lahti's performance as Hester, the tough as nails political shark, is astounding—she brings so much depth and conviction to this role. What's more Lahti's able to take her character through decades of her life developing like a real person, we understand what she's going through every step of the way. Georgia King is Anna, the girlfriend who's comes to dinner in a Trojan Horse, she's sweet and polite one minute, then strikes with a heavy-handed blow the next. King is tenacious, raw and super focused—you sense the gears in her mind working and you're eager to hear what she has to say next. Jason Ritter (Colin/Ethan) character has only a few words yet Ritter is able to express everything that is affecting Colin with incisive physicality—he enters a room or sits in a chair and you know everything about him.

(l-r): Steven Culp, Georgia King, Jason Ritter and David Selby. Photo Credit: Kevin Parry.
The first act of The City Conversation is one of the most engaging parts of the work because what inevitably happens is that the audience, like the characters, become self-divided into two camps: camp Hester and camp Anna. The choice is up to you, and the choice is not necessarily based on conservative verses liberal, it's also factored by the action of the play. Giardina's play will provoke a conversation once the house lights go up after Act I, and when that moment comes: what will you have to say? Furthermore, once you come back for Act II, Giardina elegantly fills you in on what's happened many years later, then concluding the play with a final move that reminds us that "it takes an endless amount of history to make even a little tradition" (Henry James) and how often who were are today is the result of something that happened long before we were born.


Come to The City of Conversation at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, bring you mother, sister, father, friend or grandmother and see what they have to say after Act I, you may just learn something new about that person.


The City of Conversation runs from May 20th to June 4th at the Bram Goldsmith Theater in the Wallis. For more information and tickets visit: TheWalis.org.

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