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"I find your cynicism charming." - THE RUBY SUNRISE
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Last night we made the first of two pilgrimages to the Actors's Theatre of Louisville for this year's Humana Festival of New American Plays. The American Association of Theater Critics was also out in force, as it's their annual conference in Louisville this weekend.

The play we chose (off this review) was THE RUBY SUNRISE by Rinne Groff. The play is a comic reimagining of history, which doesn't actually preclude history, in which a young woman named Ruby invents television on an Indiana farm in 1927. After her lab and invention are destroyed, her achievement and her ambition are lost to the sands of time -- until her daughter Lulu
works to bring her story to television in the McCarthy era.

Ruby's character was played with a brusque freshness that I found very appealing; Christopher found the actress's accent distractingly thick, but it didn't bother me. Ruby, having fled her tyrant father, shows up on the doorstep of the woman he left years ago (disenchanted and wise, and played beautifully by Anne Scurria). A young boarder living with this woman immediately falls for Ruby, and becomes her conspirator in building her television prototype.

No one believes Ruby can do what she's saying she can and, ultimately, she doesn't. But the prototype would have worked. Here, the play jumps forward in time to the '50s, and her daughter, now a television script girl who wants to bring her mother's story to the masses, and seduces a writer to do so.

The play is directed by Oskar Eustis (and will also be performed at Trinity Repertory Theater at Brown after it closes at the Humana); Eustis commissioned ANGELS IN AMERICA from Tony Kushner and directed its initial performance. He's the artistic director at Trinity Rep.

The staging was terrific, the transitions on the floating stage perfectly timed and absolutely seamless. At least two transitions involved the principles kissing each other for an extremely long, and funny, stretch whle the stage turned and props were set.

The Actor's Theatre does marvelous technical work and this was no exception. For the end of the play, a giant screen is lowered on which the actors' work is reflected and also changed in a very interesting and, again, funny way.

This play had much to say about the ways in which we think invention will change the world, but it doesn't; the possibility that who invents something may effect its fate; about failure and hope; and about what role TV actually plays in our culture. You see, Ruby thought TV would make us all better people... She gives one monologue about this twice, during the first act and again to close the play. It's a powerful speech about how TV will bring the world to people, right into their living rooms, and how it will change us -- how we will see people from across the world and understand them better. About how TV will end war, because who could bear to watch war right in their living room?

This play contains a number of resonances with the current political situation, not least because a major subplot in the daughter's storyline involves an actress who has been blacklisted not being cast as Ruby. Other types of resonance were built in by the director as well -- the principles (save Ruby) of the 1920s reprise their roles as actors in the 1950s, commenting on the earlier shades of meaning and bringing a sense of comfortable strangeness to watching them perform the reinterpretation of their roles. The casting of a flighty blonde starlet as Ruby yields some of the funniest scenes in the play, and some of the most poignant. It is Ruby that is changed the most in this translation of her story, just as TV is changed from its vision of what Ruby imagined it could be.

Lulu has a complicated relationship with TV as well -- she also sees its potential, loves it, but understands, as one character puts it, "We're selling detergent." Lulu tries not to make the same mistakes her mother made, but we question whether those character traits are mistakes at all. Lulu is brave, and she sees TV as greatly democratic, treating the rich the same as the poor, available to all. Lulu also has some of the sharpest dialogue in the play; the 1950s stuff has a very rat-a-tat screwball feel to it.

The play isn't perfect. There are some moments that feel off here and there, particularly in the third act. Lulu's story felt like it needed more resolution and her chemistry with the writer wasn't quite right. I wished that her story had mirrored her mother's more closely in the end. But their connection to each other, despite failure and difference, ultimately transcends those imperfections.

Really, it's a love story about two women and their relationships with television. Which is a refreshing change from the usual love story, especially from the time periods in which this play is set. Ultimately, THE RUBY SUNRISE left me with a dual sense of sadness and gratitude at how deeply flawed we are as human beings, and how that's reflected in the world around us and in our obsessions.

A sidenote: almost all the Humana plays have some sort of tangental, at least, element that in any other form would be labeled "magical realism." Yes, genre elements. And yet, this isn't mentioned in reviews or in promotional materials. No one bats an eyelash. Very interesting.

worm: "Feast of Wire," Calexico

today's fave post: ain't read none yet

namecheck: Joe and Melendra "We Just Had a Baby" Sutliff Sanders

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