For any creative soul, when the truest and most vibrant colors are sought, the source most readily turned to is that intimate palette of one’s own personal narrative.
Writers, novelists, playwrights tend to display the greatest dependency on this singular resource. The process of extraction can be as varied as the specific commodities sought and the method in which they will be employed.
You have writers like Stephen King and Ray Bradbury, who are blessed with imaginations that function like finely tuned assembly lines of creativity, in which their personal chronicles are called upon to provide an epidermal reality to their more phantasmagorical constructs.
Some writers claim deep reserves of accumulated episodes, which they tend to render up faithfully and so feel it is obligatory, much as Ernest Hemmingway did, that they be constantly replenishing their pool of experience.
You have some writers who exploit their memories and history ruthlessly, like a chess master playing out a gambit; then resetting the pieces whereby they repeat the series of moves with a sense of desperation to ascertain what doomed the “game” to be resigned, while others undertake the same process in a celebration of the endgame before victory.
Certain writers have a catalogue of vastly dissimilar works, which on the surface proclaim their “scope.” Yet, if one peers into the secret channels of these individual works, one can discover concealed within their depths that each work in fact shares an engine all but identical and which appear to have their source in some prominent life trauma. In the continuous dramatic restaging of some specific crisis, one can discern the attempt to validate, justify, rationalize or even disguise actions the artist took in life.
At the core of Shakespeare’s plays for example—each diverse and singular as they are in divisions of comedy, tragedy, historical or fantastical—one finds, with hardly an exception, the conflict of a child’s obedience to a father.
The ability to access and employ autobiographical and experiential materials can be a powerful tool for an artist, but in its employment, there are also pitfalls.
With the world premiere of Jonathan Ceniceroz’s The Cruise, which recently closed at the Los Angeles Theatre Center (LATC), it appears neither the playwright nor director Heath Cullens succeeded in navigating those pitfalls.
Set aboard an upscale Caribbean cruise liner the dramatic flow of the work finds expression in the interaction of the five characters; There is the silver-tongued Ramón (Ric Salinas) who has flirted and flimflammed his whole life as a means to escape the Los Angeles barrio of his youth and who has beguiled his gay college educated son James (Kenneth Lopez) to set aside his struggles to establish himself as a New York writer in order to join him aboard ship. There’s Boyd (Brian Wallace) an erstwhile friend of Ramón’s from the past who is now immune to his charms. Lastly there are the wealthy Trump supporters from Arizona; Judith (Carolyn Amos) and her husband Howard (Gary Lamb), who resents her using their Caribbean escape as an opportunity to bolster the candidate of her conservative PAC.
The cast is top shelf, with Salinas setting the bar high from the very start as he goes about charming everyone he meets right outa their deck chairs.
In the program notes Ceniceroz hints at the characters of Ramón and James having their roots in his relationship with his father.
Ceniceroz has presented us with believable characters and intelligent dialogue, and one senses that there was, to the playwright, an importance in telling the stories of these people.
But that sense of importance is not found in the weave of the work. The estranged father and son come into the play without any established relationship binding them, so they are removed from the immediate threat of anything that can be lost.
At the same time neither do they suffer the weight, or cost, of that relationship’s absence, so there is nothing on stage for them to long after or strive for, and by extension nothing that threatens them with failure or holds out to them triumph.
What makes a high stakes poker game exciting is the ever increasing “pot” that motivates and provokes every decision and action of the gamblers at the table.
To achieve either an electrifying poker game or an exhilarating evening in the theatre the requirements are the same; that over the course of the hands or the scenes there must be a growing sense that something stands to be won or lost.
A poker game needs to have an “all-in pot” situated in the center of the action, and so does a play. Without said pot, playwright Ceniceroz has not given us a poker game. He has only shown us people sitting in a circle holding wax cards.
The Cruise ran from March 10 – April 9, 2017 at The Los Angeles Theatre Center.
For more information regarding upcoming events phone: 213-489-0994 or go to: www.thelatc.org.
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