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The Rainy Season/On Tidy Endings

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THE RAINY SEASON

Zebra Crossing Theatre
at Chicago Dramatists Workshop

The protagonist in Dwight Okita's new play, The Rainy Season, is a 30-year-old office temp named Harry who longs to be an important artist. When questioned about his innermost desires, he declares that he wants to "do something great." If Harry speaks for his creator, Okita can rest assured that he has done something great in creating this play.

The Rainy Season presents what few new plays even approximate: an accurate, honest, compelling picture of life in our times. At the same time, Okita's poetic sensibility imbues this realistic drama with a nearly mythic quality. His star-crossed lovers, Harry (Raymond J. Mark) and Antonio (Eddie Torres), follow in the footsteps of Romeo and Juliet and Orpheus and Eurydice.

Okita has kept his plot simple. Harry, who has never had a relationship that lasted more than a few months, meets Antonio seemingly by chance at a bus stop. While Harry schedules his life down to the minute, Antonio, newly arrived from Brazil, lives for the moment, letting his passions guide him. When Antonio invites Harry to Brazil, Harry is torn between following his heart and obeying his sense of duty to his widowed mother (Cheryl Hamada), who needs his company to feel loved and useful.

This dramatic triangle may seem like something out of Playwriting 101, but sometimes the basics are all an imaginative playwright needs. Okita exploits the inherent tensions expertly, as each character pushes away the people he or she wants to be close to. Harry's mother is fiercely nonintrospective. When Harry tells her in a passionate monologue of his longing for love and his jealousy over the duration of her relationship with her husband, her only response is "What a good public speaker you are!" She simply can't understand her son's homosexuality, although she does her best to accept it, giving Harry the impetus to run into Antonio's arms, where he can truly be himself. But Harry's need to know every detail of Antonio's life is foiled by Antonio's love affair with mystery.

Okita's elementary dramatic structure provides him with a framework for the complex inner workings of his play. The Rainy Season is an eloquent examination of the nature of love, from its most sublime to its most excruciating. An endless need for intimacy runs through the veins of the characters in this play. They long to see themselves reflected in each other's eyes. This is particularly true of Harry's mother, who repeatedly asks her son, "What do people say is charming about me?"

Even in their least attractive moments, as when Harry rakes Antonio over the coals because he didn't show up for dinner, the worst you can say of Okita's characters is that they are all too human. Unlike many contemporary playwrights who spend more time creating theatrical conventions than understanding how those conventions serve their plays, Okita lets the lives of his characters speak for themselves. It is rare to see a relatively new playwright who trusts his characters so fully.

Okita's protagonist is a remarkable construction: an everyman figure who is both Japanese American and gay. Okita never avoids the specific reality of Harry's ethnicity and sexuality--without them, there would be no play. But at the same time he finds universal truths in the particulars of Harry's life.

Mark finds a vulnerability that makes Harry instantly endearing, someone facing life with an open heart and a good-natured smile. But during some of the darker moments, particularly as Harry and Antonio's relationship begins to crumble, Mark seems unwilling to offer the impulsiveness the scenes demand. As a result, Harry seems curiously unaffected by his journey through the play.

Mark is surrounded by a rock-solid cast, which also includes Marc Rita, George Seegebrecht, and Ronda Bedgood. All of them create familiar yet intriguing characters.

While it takes a scene or two for the play to kick into gear, some of the scenes, particularly those at the beginning of the second act, are impeccable. Only in the final scene does The Rainy Season falter. Okita brings his drama to a hasty conclusion that denies this extraordinarily complex work its full resonance. But the strength of the preceding two hours leaves me no doubt that a great ending is a rewrite away.

ON TIDY ENDINGS

Open Door Theatre Company
at Puszh Studios

While Okita explores the intricacies within a simple situation, Harvey Fierstein, in his one-act On Tidy Endings, distills a complicated situation to pure catharsis. Colin has just died of AIDS. His lover Arthur (Dan Turek) and his ex-wife Marion (Charlotte Akin) meet in the apartment Colin and Arthur shared but Marion and Colin owned, in order to arrange its sale. Marion's callous attorney June (Chris Callahan) suggests putting off the sale for at least a year, since no one would want to buy an apartment in which someone died of AIDS. Marion and Colin's son Jimmy (Brendan Hutt) can hardly look Arthur in the eye; as Arthur says, "his father died of a 'fag' disease and I'm the only fag around to finger."

The sale of the apartment is Fierstein's device to get Arthur and Marion into the same room. On Tidy Endings is basically a catharsis machine, as both characters reveal their pain, their mutual jealousy, and their deep sense of loss, and finally resolve their differences.

Fierstein constructed his hour-long play with a nearly operatic sweep. Open Door proceeds with caution. The result is a clear and thoughtful production that takes about 40 minutes to find its emotional center. Hampered by generally sluggish pacing and director Katee Dolan's static staging, On Tidy Endings wanders when it should push aggressively forward. The final scenes are lovely, however, especially when Arthur describes holding Colin in his hospital bed and helping him to die. If the cast can bring to the first half of the play the passion they've found in the second, this production might soar.

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