Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Poetic Justice: ★★ - ★★★★ = ★★★


"We never know how we will be remembered, or by whom." says Charles Shaw Robinson, as poet Rainer Maria Rilke, in the first of two short plays by Lynne Kaufman, now playing at the Marsh in San Francisco. In the first, "You Must Change Your life," he is speaking onstage to actor Julia McNeal, but his words are taken from Rilke's letters to an Austrian cadet in 1902, a young boy who didn't know if he should join the army or become a writer.  Rilke pontificates, sometimes with lovely lines, and the young soldier, in the body of the female actor, mostly whines. "How will I KNOW if my writing is any good?" Yes, well, Franz, you won't.

Kaufman most likely chose a female to play the male cadet in order to segue more easily into the second play of the two that comprise "Poetic Justice," which is "Divine Madness." This is the sad story of poet Robert Lowell's romance with fellow poet Elizabeth Hardwicke. They meet at a Writer's Conference (ho ho ho, that certainly has never happened before), he moves in with her, produces a child, then jilts her for an English heiress. Both suffer, but mostly her. 

It is hard to feel too terribly distraught about Hardwicke's distress, after her lines that she has lived ten years in a New York hotel, having many lovers, both for love as well as career advancement. One might surmise that she went for Lowell to advance her career and Lowell left her for money. In the meantime there are both love and a child but neither seem to matter much to Lowell. 

In our opinion, "You Must Change Your Life" is a bit of a slog, with Robinson's vaguely German-accent English and McNeal's complaining about how she/he can never be in control of an uncontrollable instinct. However, in "Divine Madness," we delve deeper into each character. Lowell comes alive as a tormented and self-centered ass, as Hardwicke nails him again and again with her vision of the truth. But she still loves him. So:

                                        RATINGS: ★★ - ★★★★ = ★★★

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division Boy Reviewer grants Two Stars to "Poetic Justice," with the caveat that "It is kinda talky." However, the Girl Reviewer loved both acts and could not be talked out of it in the car going home: "I loved them both." This has led to the rare ★★ - ★★★★ = ★★★ Rating. Be advised as well as encouraged. Either way, both Robinson and McNeal are excellent actors and a joy to watch. 



The Marsh

1062 Valencia Street, San Francisco

Saturdays and Sundays through Jan. 29


No comments: