If you finish reading this review and don't have a clue what I was trying to say, I could claim I was being intentionally ambiguous in order to make you think for yourself. On the other hand, I might just be a lousy writer.Ê The same is true for plays that are freighted with multiple ambiguities, such as The Aperture by Sean Christopher Lewis, a world-premiere production now at the Cleveland Public Theatre. Ê
In this concise (just under an hour) and intriguing work about a boy soldier from Uganda, there are many moments when there are more question marks than exclamation points. And even after you chalk up some of those mysteries to a lack of artfulness by the playwright, you are still left with a play that ripples with theatrical, not to mention thematic, power.Ê
Alex is a professional photographer who has found a dream subject in 18-year-old Okello John, a former boy soldier from Uganda now living in Baltimore. Her stage-managed photo studies of John ("Now, try to remember the worst thing that happened to you in Uganda," coaxes Alex as she snaps away), and her conflicted thoughts about exploiting him all over again, lead to scenes - both imaginary and real - that sketch out the forces at work on both individuals.Ê
The play jumps through time and space from a hut in Uganda where John and his sister cower in fear to a police station in Baltimore staffed by officers who are a cross between the Keystone Cops and Vic Mackey on The Shield. The police are puzzling out a (fanciful?) local revolution of bazooka-toting fourth-graders led by someone who might be John.Ê These tight turns are handled with precision by Heather Anderson Boll and Isaiah Isaac, under the thoughtful direction of Craig J. George. Each performer morphs into different characters and, although Boll's various personas are more fully realized, each delivers moments of startling clarity and visceral immediacy. Ê
What is less successful is Lewis' attempt to draw larger metaphorical connections. If we accept the premise that to explore an issue is to exploit it, we have come to the logical end of art and journalism. And trying to tie the horrific, forced child violence in Uganda to free-form youth violence in this country is rather glib in more ways than one.ÊBut that doesn't make The Aperture any less compelling to watch or less fascinating to think about and discuss.Ê
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