The World Premiere of Rights of Passage: A multi-media drama By Ed Decker and Robert Leone. Directed by Arturo Catricala. New Conservatory Theatre Center -Decker Theatre (NCTC), 25 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94102. 415-861-4914 X116 or www.nctcsf.org August 17, 2012 – September 16, 2012.
RIGHTS OF PASSAGE at NCTC a visual and intellectual treat.
During the past 31 years The New Conservatory Theatre Center has mounted plays/cabaret/monologists/musicals with consideration for the Gay community under the artistic direction of Ed Decker. Because of his leadership the comfortable 100 seat main theater has been named the Decker Theatre. The honor is well deserved since he has attracted quality directors, set designers, costume designers and a multitude of technical staff. Now he can add the accolade of being a talented playwright but he must share that accolade with his life-partner and co-author Robert Leone.
Rights of Passage playing in the Decker Theatre is an absolute gem with a multi-media production that should not be missed. The concept and development of the play has been a labor of love entwined with trials and tribulations during the past two years for the authors. Staged readings with feed-back, re-writes and consultation with the Human Rights Watch and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission has created a universality not limited to one geographic area.
Decker and Leone have spent many years enjoying the beauty and culture of Bali while becoming involved in their customs and making life long friends. Thus creating a gay Hindu Balinese male whom they have named Wayan (Jomar Tagatac) to be their protagonist is as natural as the rising sun. Only it is Moon Goddess (Desiree Rogers) who in the prolog starts the ball rolling as Wayan tells the story of Puntu a child born half male and half female who hides from the people of his village. As the story is told, back-lit silhouettes of puppets act out the scene. Puntu’s dialog with the Moon is casual banter with humorous but significant overtones as he finally accepts that he is just the natural manifestation of all of us. . . part man and part woman.
Wayan is born during a storm and his birth leads to the death of his mother. To his grandmother Made (Michaela Greeley) this is a bad omen and she does not allow Wayan’s feet to touch the ground for 6 months lest he be invested with dark demons lurking below. The play is divided into birth, childhood and adulthood as our protagonist struggles to find a way to reconcile his Hindu heritage of duty to family and community with his attraction for other males and convince his hard working taxi driver father to accept him as he is.As the story progresses the production seamlessly integrates projections, lighting, dancing and puppetry to demonstrate the problems with rights (not ‘ rites’) of passage being true to oneself. The intermingled scenes can be touching, brutal and even humorous.
One of the many memorable vignettes involves a puppet as a young German boy writing a letter Santa Claus down stage right with the projection of his youthful scrawl appearing on the scrim center-stage rear. Puppets are also used simulate the horrendous sexual abuse of young girls to “teach them what their relationship to men should be.
In contrast to this bitter sweet moment is the crushing reality of a homophobic Serb brutalizing his gay brother and the imprisonment of two men insisting their love be recognized by their community in Malawi. With the short playlettes involving other cultures the authors have been very successful in demonstrating that gay rights and problems of acceptance are universal.
When the interim stories return to United States, Dazie Rustin Grego brings the house down with his stiletto heels and skin tight drag as she/he dances up a storm in Biloxi, Mississippi. Randall Nakano is superb both as Wayan’s father and as the soft spoken Joe the Plumber who tolerates a flaming queen who works in his shop.
This review could go on and on with about a dozen more fascinating moments playing out on the Decker Stage. The set is stunning ( Kuo-Hao Lo), the costumes gorgeous (Jorge Herandez), the lighting (Christian Mejia) and soundscape (AudioZephyrus) are adjuvant to specific scenes. The puppets (designer Allison Daniel) and their handlers play their parts perfectly. Having seen many shows directed by Arturo Catricala, it is without any caveat this is the best he has done.
Three cheers for the cast (only named as ‘ensemble’): RJ Castaneda, Michaela Greely, Dazie Rustin Grego, Christopher Morrell, Randal Nakano, Anthony Rollins-Mullens, Desiree Rogers and Jomar Tagatac. Running time about two hours with one intermission.
Kedar K. Adour, MD
Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com