Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Very Terrible Father, by Jeremy Menekseoglu

A Very Terrible Father takes you into the world of a man who is dying, a man who has his regrets, a man who needs to see his discarded daughter before he dies. It is set in the contemporary world, in Germany and America, and is elegantly presented on a simple set with a backlit screen that serves as a changing backdrop as scene follows scene.

We have both German and English speaking characters, with exquisitely rendered scenes of misunderstanding. But somehow, even though all the actors are really speaking English, the audience never becomes confused about who is speaking what language. In one of the play's haunting scenes, our protagonist tries to explain things to his daughter, in words she cannot understand.

Key parts of the play are set in a certain Florida theme park, you know the one, a place that is portrayed with obvious affection. Because of my personal history with this park, because we took our middle child to this park when she was dying, I found this setting almost unbearably sad. But I think the setting works quite well in the play, emphasizing the special beauty that is life.

Jeremy Menekseoglu turns in a tour-de-force portrayal of Matthias, the dying man who is forced to confront the truth about his own history. Mishelle Apalategui is captivating as Lilli, the girlfriend he met at a support group for the dying. Courtney Blomquist simmers and finally explodes as Zita, the mother of his daughter. Natalie Breitmeyer is perfect as the young woman herself, every inch an uncomfortable and uncomprehending American 12 year old. Last but not least, Chad Sheveland embodies the character you love to hate – Bill, the well-meaning American adoptive father, who thinks that most of life's tragedies can be resolved by drinking the right sort of organic smoothie.

Menekseoglu often writes plays involving legends and fantasies. But in this play he has stuck very close to life, and death, as we know it. The result is a play with the look and feel of ordinary reality, but the power and force of myth.

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