Stephen Sachs is an intellectual juggernaut of a playwright who plumbs premises for his pieces from the pages of the Los Angeles Times and other news sources, populates them with well developed and finely crafted characters, then provides them with dialogue both sparkling and believable.
He demonstrated this in Bakersfield Mist whose basic storyline would be familiar to those who caught the documentary Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock? as well as the more recent Citizen: An American Lyric adapted from Claudia Rankine’s poetic examination, of racial issues in America, of the same title.
Sachs has, again, taken a story from recent events to employ as the foundation for his Dream Catcher, which now graces the stage of the Fountain Theatre.
The bare blocks of the story involves the construction of a solar energy plant in the Mojave Desert, a multi-billion dollar project that was first stalled and finally derailed by the discovery of Native American artifacts on the site.
Sachs knows, as all good writers do, that mere “events” are, in and of themselves, the stuff of “history.” Events are magnified into drama only when they are passed through the prism of individuals in conflict, and emerge in the light of a new definition, one whose reality now finds its expression in emotional truths.
Thus is the prosaic tale of a corporation’s clash with the tribal rights of a native people transmuted in Sachs’ hands to the meeting of a man and woman who come to the painful realization that the intense physical relationship they share is as barren as the landscape of the high desert rain-shadow about them.
Sachs’ plays do not deal with trifles, and here he does not merely give us the sad rendering of “girl meets boy, girl loses boy.” Rather he pits the world view of Diderot against that of Rousseau; the secular concept of reality as opposed to the spiritual interpretation, and raises the stakes of the game through the ante of global warming.
Sachs permits no “straw man” on his stage either.
His two characters Opal (Elizabeth Frances), the reservation girl with the checkered past, and Roy (Brian Tichnell) the ambitious technocrat who sees his entire future endangered by the artifacts’ unearthing, are evenly matched opponents, whose arguments are certain to shake the convictions of any audience member regardless of what camp he is in.
Tichnell and Frances are solid talents, and director Cameron Watson is a skilled hand coming off an appreciable run of past successes (Picnic and Top Girls with the Antaeus Theatre Company and Cock at Rogue Machine Theatre).
All in all, it is hard to be disappointed with a work like Dream Catcher.
However, it is just as hard to find it a satisfying effort.
Sachs and Watson see to it that when Tichnell and Frances find themselves in conflict that it has the intensity and fury of Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone crossing swords.
But herein lays the problem.
In Robin Hood, Flynn and Rathbone face one another at steel point during the film’s climax. Prior to then we had ample time and reason to find the nobility and villainy in the two opponents luring us into making an emotional investment in the outcome of the duel.
While Sachs clearly does not want to simplify his two characters into the roles of hero and villain he manages to undo the standing of both with the audience; one with the revelation of their flawed and duplicitous nature the other by the stance they sustain. (Sorry, the extinction of the human race vs. the sanctity of a grave site? Plow it up.)
But the primary problem with the piece is that all the audience is treated to is the dueling between the two characters. With their entrances the production opens at a pitch level where it remains until one departs the stage.
Unhappily the foremost consequence of this is the tainting of actors and production, despite their merits, with an equivalence that approaches monotony.
It is conceivable that this defect will be worked out as the production moves deeper into its run.
While perhaps not a fully realized work it nevertheless boasts some fine writing, and that alone holds the hope of improvement.
♦ ♦ ♦
WRITTEN BY: Stephen Sachs
DIRECTED BY: Cameron Watson
CAST: Elizabeth Frances, Brian Tichnell
AT: The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave.
Los Angeles CA 90029
(Fountain at Normandie)
Performances: Now thru March 21:
• Saturdays at 8 p.m.: Jan. 30(opening night); Feb. 6, 13, 20, 27; March 5, 12, 19
• Sundays at 3 p.m.: Feb. 7, 14, 21, 28; March 6, 13, 20 (no 3 p.m. performance on Jan. 31)
• Sundays at 7 p.m.: Jan. 31; Feb. 7, 14, 21, 28; March 6, 13, 20
• Mondays at 8 p.m.: Feb. 1, 8, 15, 22, 29; March 7, 14, 21
For Tickets and Information:
(323) 663-1525 or www.FountainTheatre.com