“You can’t handle the truth!” – Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men
Truth is a slippery subject. Truth can be confused with facts. What’s more, truth is often anointed in the absence of all of the facts. Worse yet, truth becomes truthiness when one denies facts and bases truth on wish or belief. The unrelenting revelation of facts yielding truth is a central theme in AJ Baker’s new play Entanglement, an engaging play-within-a-play about how people interact with one another yet fail to agree on what they’ve experienced.
The play’s title is purposeful. It speaks to the physics theory of the same name which observes that two quantum particles can be so connected that they share the same existence and that the mere measuring of one will have an effect on the other, no matter their distance from each other.
Emma is a fortyish woman in a problematic marriage. Having found a partial manuscript for a play that she had written almost two decades before, she has now finished it and has received a short-notice acceptance into the San Francisco Fringe Festival. She wishes to act the female role in the two-person play. To direct it, she turns to a long-ago teacher and lover, Luke, by whom she had become pregnant. While they have not communicated in 18 years, their connection is palpable to her. He is dubious, but ultimately accepts the assignment. To complicate matters, at the first rehearsal, Emma brings her husband along to act across from her, and Luke brings his daughter from a marriage that preceded his affair with Emma as his assistant.
We quickly infer that this relationship drama is about Emma and Luke, and that Emma bears seething resentment. Ironically, she is her own worst enemy, as her self portrayal in the script is harsh and unsympathetic. And ironically again, since Luke is the theater professional, he insists on rewrites that provide a more balanced perspective and a softening of the Emma-like role. A clash of wills erupts as she wants to retain her point of view as the driving narrative, while he embraces the notion of Rashomon, the Kurosawa film in which four people recount four different versions of the same incident. We suspect that Emma has an ulterior motive in engaging Luke to direct the play, but we question whether husband, Rob, has sufficient incentives to participate in any chicanery.
Madeline H. D. Brown plays Emma with an approach that reveals the character’s fractious and overwrought personality – one that is hard to empathize with despite her having suffered and been betrayed. Louis Parnell’s Luke is the counter – spent to the point that he suggests that the most important thing in his life is to be able to hail a taxi when he’s had too much to drink. Parnell directs the play with assurance and also provides the strongest acting moments, both when revealing some of Luke’s personal issues and when role playing the part of Emma during rehearsals.
A strong presence throughout is Chad Deverman who is Rob. In some ways his character is the most conflicted with obligations, desires, and emotions. Deverman excels at walking the minefield with panache. Luke’s daughter, Jeri, is played by Heather Gordon who brings a youthful confidence to her role – able to challenge Emma on several levels. As the backstage technician, Julian Green’s part is not mission-critical, but he does provide some needed levity.
Entanglement offers cleverly designed developments. As we proceed, we learn more and more about the characters’ secrets and their truths in an interesting script that is well acted and staged. One weakness that can’t be properly discussed without spoiling the ending is that the reasoning for Emma’s plan does not seem to be well motivated or clearly explicated.
The world premiere of Entanglement by AJ Baker is produced by 3Girls Theatre Company and plays at Z Space Below through December 17, 2016.