Thursday, December 15, 2005

Aphrodisiac at Long Wharf

Long Wharf's Second Stage is very clearly the conducive place for presentation of "Aphrodisiac," continuing at the New Haven based theater through Jan. 1. It's startling, intense theater. Conjuring the scandal between Gary Conduit and Chandra Levy, the play (80 minutes long), is bold, provocative.....The stage is long and rectangular and spreads before the audience. It's a perfect locale for the actors to face theatergoers while maintaining contact with one another. Rob Campbell as Avery, Jennifer Dundas as Alma, and Yeetta Gottesman as Monica (Lewinsky) bring the heat of Rob Handel's words directly to the audience.

At first, Dundas plays the twenty-something year old intern who, at a chic restaurant, informs the politician that she is, indeed, pregnant. She will have the child in New York City. He is, shall we say, less cooperative. This will not happen; he will not partake. End of story.

During upcoming vignettes the actors role play: as the children of the congressman. Campbell becomes his father, detailing what it was like to live in D.C. while President Clinton was carrying on.

Dundas does her turn as the young intern who was head over heels in love with the older man. Malleable and able to transform her facial features according to the circumstance, Dundas appears to grow older or younger according to the scene.

She is reminiscent of Susan Dey (who played Grace Van Owen on television's "L.A. Law") during the 1980s. Sure, Dey was rail thin and Dundas is not. Each, however, wore pain through their cheekbones and brow. Dundas demonstrates, either as intern or daughter to the congressman, that transgressions pierce her cannot but stare, in awe or admiration, as Dundas bequeathes a searing, truthful performance.

Enter Gottesman whose physique, hairstyle, and demeanor immediately call the actual Lewinsky to mind. Sitting stage left, she assumes t he spotlight with a clever, rib-tickling riff about life with Bill in the Oval Office. The other two actors sit, transfixed, and listen.

Finally, the stage grows dark again. Within t he recessed lighting, the congressman and his intern appear. It becomes all too clear that they are in a car together. She is doomed.

Rob Handel's script is incisive and cutting. Ken Rus Schmoll directs the three actors with precision. They move from station to station, scene to scene, adjusting characters to plot development.
"Aphrodisiac," a sum of its parts, unsettles its audience. There's nothing fun about it. The playwright, t hough, does a superb job as he further haunts by revisiting a recent, traumatic incident. Hold on and don't blink. People of conscience will carry this one with them as they leave the premises.