ends up in enemy territory
By Juliet Schoen / Staff Writer
“Lewis and Clark Reach the Euphrates” is an amusing title, which would seem to indicate there is fun to be had in this play directed by Gregory Boyd at the Mark Taper Forum. Fun there is, in the first act, when the two famous explorers set out for the Pacific Northwest to find a route that will connect the East with the West. Their adventures in the United States are delightful, subtle and ironic. However in the second act, they actually reach the Euphrates, which we all know runs through Iraq, and the message about America’s foreign interventions is brought home with a sledgehammer.
The two explorers are innocents impressed by the mandate of President Thomas Jefferson “to act in a friendly and conciliatory way with the natives.” Endowed with high ideals, the two captains embark on their mission, while the audience is made aware of some dingy spots in the fabric of the United States. Jefferson’s slave, Sally Hemming, makes a brief appearance, and a slave unwillingly accompanies the expedition.
While the first act is delightfully droll and subtle, the second act is dark and heavy-handed. Poor Lewis and Clark are transported to Cuba where they meet Teddy Roosevelt as he leads his troops up the hill in an effort to “free Cuba.” Our heroes pay a second act visit to the Philippines, Vietnam and finally, Iraq. Lewis and Clark are rightfully disenchanted and so is the audience. America’s culpability is spelled out in gunfire and dead bodies.
As usual, the arena stage is cleverly designed to give scope to the travels of the twosome and their companions as they meet with various Indians and spin through the waters of the Missouri River.
The playwright, Robert Schenkkan, writes so charmingly in the first act, it seems a pity that he cannot carry on in the same spirit. He has a wonderfully workable set with a multiservice “boat,” provided by Jeff Cowie, clever costumes designed by Judith Dolan and a wonderful, talented cast. Jeffrey Nordling and James Barbour, as Clark and Lewis, respectively, are absolutely delightful. They eventually bow down in despair but they keep the second act tolerable with their acting. Nordling, especially, gives an award-winning performance.
The rest of the cast consists of Eugene Lee, Morgan Rusler, Tess Lina, Randy Oglesby, Tony Amendola, Ruben C. Gonzalez, Ty Mayberry and Roy Abramson. They all play myriad roles, including Indians, soldiers and expedition members, effecting dazzling costume changes. Tina Lina, the only woman in the show, is marvelous as Sally Hemmings, corps member, Crow’s wife and the famous Sacagawea complete with baby.
If the medium is the message, the message in this case is depressing.