Review: ‘Communique Nᴼ 10’ at Cutting Ball (**1/2)

(Charles Kruger)

(Rating: **1/2)

This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

(‘Communique Nᴼ 10’ plays at The Exit Theatre through May 25, 2014.) 

French Playwright Samuel Gallet, a professor at one of France’s prestigious national theatre schools (The National School of Arts And Technical Theatre—ENSATT—located in Paris), has won numerous awards and attracted considerable buzz in the French theatre world. A writer committed to engaging with contemporary issues, he is a natural choice for The Cutting Ball, and finds an excellent translator in Cutting Ball’s artistic director, Rob Melrose.

“Communique Nᴼ 10” was inspired by riots which took place in Paris after several young men walking home from a soccer game were accidentally electocuted in a power station after fleeing from police whom they feared would harrass them.  Their deaths, writes cutting ball dramaturg Rern Myers, “were the tipping point of many years of frustration, discrimination, and violence experienced by the citizens of these poor and mostly immigrant suburbs. Racism, unemployment, and police brutality were commonplace.”

The Child (top c. Hugo Carbajal) broadcasts Communiqué nᴼ 9 with news of the riot as his band of Children (l. Maura Halloran, r. Wiley Naman Strasser) and the Old Man (seated, Aaron Malberg) listen in "Communiqué nº 10".
The Child (top c. Hugo Carbajal) broadcasts Communiqué nᴼ 9 with news of the riot as his band of Children (l. Maura Halloran, r. Wiley Naman Strasser) and the Old Man (seated, Aaron Malberg) listen in “Communiqué nº 10”.

This nitty gritty subject matter is a good fit for Cutting Ball, where Director Rob Melrose is deeply committed to a politically charged “poor theatre” that strives to strip production values to the bare minimum in order to create a truly visceral experience of the actors’ bodies in space, intended to hit audiences in the gut.

Unfortunately, while many aspects of the current production are admirable, it is a flawed work that fails to fully engage. Among its strengths are the excellent set and lighting designs of Michael Locher and York Kennedy, respectively. Among the actors, Hugo Carbajal is a standout as The Child, transcending the flaws of the production.

Overall, though, the piece is handicapped by a confusing story line and an absence of rhyhmic variation in its delivery that prove deadly, so that the brief 80 minute running time seems much longer.

A series of brief scenes show several inner city rioters as they move about the city during a night of civil discord. A mysterious child guides them, and an old man, not sure if he is dead or alive, provides a kind of poetic counterpoint to the crisis. If I could describe the action with greater clarity, I would, but I found myself quite confused.

Director Melrose indicates in his program notes that he wanted to focus on “the actor’s flesh and blood presence and physical work” for this production. Accordingly, he collaborated closely with choreographer Emma Jaster. The actors do display a fine athletic presence, and occasional the movement is quite striking, but overall it fails to communicate much even though it is well executed on the jungle gym of a set. The lack of rhythmic variation and an uncertainty about what is to be communicated undermine the physical work of the actors. Lacking evident story telling purpose, it fails to move.

I admire this production for its effort to engage complex themes, and rise to a challenging physicality. But I can’t say it succeeds.

For further information, click here.

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“Commumnique Nº 10” by Samuel Gallet, translated by Rob Melrose, produced by Cutting Ball Theater in association with Golden Thread Productions. Director: Rob Melrose. Scenic Designer: Michael Locher. Costume Designer: Emily White. Lighting Designer: York Kennedy. Sound Designer: Cliff Caruthers. Choreographer: Emma Jaster.

Hassan: Damien Seperi. Marlene: Maura Halloran. Anne: Ponder Goddard. Damien: Paris Hunter Paul. Yag: Wiley Naman Strasser. The Old Man: Aaron Malberg. The Child: Hugo Carbajal. 

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