Volume I, Issue II Winter 2002

'Splendour' gets lost on way to the profound

Written by Abi Morgan
Directed by Karen Carpenter

Cassius Carter Centre Stage
The Globe Theatres complex
Balboa Park, San Diego, Calif.
Through March 16

Based on the premise of a crumbling dictatorship, and built around a series of short scenes re-enacted from each character's perspective, "Splendour" is a play of some promise.

Unfortunately, playwright Abi Morgan seems to have let her desire for profundity and Important Meaning get in the way of telling a story - or at least fleshing out some interesting characters.

The end result is a play that is mildly interesting at its best moments, and absolutely deadening too much of the rest of the time.

The Globe's staging didn't seem to be the problem; Tony Fanning's set did a nice job of capturing the high-society pretensions of a Third World ruling clique, and his use of snow in an interior setting - plus the library shelves only barely protruding above the floor – create a set that is both surreal and grounded. The sound effects by Paul Peterson presented a realistic bit of approaching artillery.

Chelsey Rives (left) and Joanna Glushak

The cast makes a game effort at breathing life into the four women holed up in a dictator's surrounded mansion.

Joanna Glushak is particularly good as the Western journalist, freshly arrived to interview the dictator's wife. Impatient yet curious, Glushak's brusque approach is true to life and utterly seamless. And Monique Fowler – last seen at the Globe in "Vita and Virginia," is convincingly distracted as Genevieve, the friend of the dictator's wife.

But Gordana Rashovich has a tough time with the characer of Micheleine, the wife. A good portion of the difficulty seems to be that her character just isn't very well drawn. The playwright seems to want Micheleine to be an out of touch, rich general's wife – but at the same time to be sensitive and caring. The results are predictably confusing.

And Gilma, the interpreter hired by the journalist, is even more confusing – first appearing as a greedy, materialistic country girl stealing everything in sight (from a feared dictator?), and then turning into a proud patriot. To her credit, Chelsey Rives seems no more confused portraying Gilma than the audience does watching her.

A few years back, the La Jolla Playhouse presented "Going to St. Ives," which was a masterful exploration of Third World dictatorships and the West's complicity in their arrival and survival. "Splendour" seems to want to make the same kind of statement, but never gets there mostly because it seems more interested in being important than in actually digging into the issues involved.

Review by Jim Trageser. Jim is a writer and editor living in Escondido, Calif.

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