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By the Waters of Babylon
Deep down we're all the same; wonderfully understanding, and needing each other's help in order to heal our secret wounds. Who wouldn't be uplifted by such a play and such a message conveyed in this soul searching drama of love and redemption 'By the Waters of Babylon' the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Robert Schenkkan.
The play is to premiere at the Geffen Playhouse, LA on October 28 with performances continuing till Dec. 7. Named in honor of entertainment mogul and philanthropist David Geffen, the Geffen Playhouse has been a hub of the Los Angeles theater scene since opening its doors in 1995.
It is celebrated for its world-renowned mix of classic and contemporary plays, provocative new works and musicals and continues to present a body of work that has garnered national recognition. The Geffen Playhouse is associated with UCLA and welcomes an audience of more than 130,000 each year.
With only two characters, By the Waters of Babylon is a bittersweet love story full of passion and tenderness. Catherine, a wealthy widow, is beautiful and outspoken but at the same time, a recluse with a mysterious past.
Her great regret is that she never had a child, that she miscarried the one time she was pregnant. As to her connection to Cuba, the only one she can think of is that her parents honeymooned there before Castro took over. Arturo, who was a poet in his native Cuba, is the newly appointed gardener by Catherine.
He is the romantic Latin with poetry in his soul, unafraid to cry openly, a born lover but temperamental. On a hot Texas day these two souls share a drink and a dance, and try to banish the ghosts that haunt them both. By the time they are done confiding in one another, the stage seems to be teeming with a vast cast of villains and victims from a 19th-century melodrama.
Arturo and Catherine tell one another tales of political tragedy, sibling rivalry, thwarted ambition, deluded idealism, domestic violence, marital rape, homicide by neglect, near drowning, mystical experience involving Afro-Cuban goddesses, a close call with a coral snake, a mean father and obnoxious neighbors.
One of the finest moments was when Arturo defines Cuban music as the merging of the spirit of two groups of exiles, Spaniards and slaves (and his explanation of Che Guevara's continuing popularity in Cuba is brilliant and persuasive).
Theater lovers might remember Robert Schenkkan from his Pulitzer Prize-winning play, The Kentucky Cycle, which had its world premiere in 1991 at Intiman Theatre. It also won both the PEN Centre West and the LA Drama Critics Circle Awards for Best Play, as well as nominations for Tony, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle awards.
His other plays include Lewis and Clark Reach the Euphrates, Heaven On Earth, Final Passages, The Devil and Daniel Webster and The Dream Thief. Robert has also written for the TV miniseries Crazy Horse, Spartacus and The Andromeda Strain.
He has written films for Sidney Pollack, Oliver Stone, Denzel Washington, Ron Howard, and Kevin Costner among others. He is currently writing The Rules, for Dreamworks, and is a writer/producer for Steven Spielberg/Tom Hanks and HBO's epic miniseries, The Pacific.
The renowned British Richard Seyd is the director of this play. He manages the play's volatile mood changes (subtly abetted by York Kennedy's skillful lighting) and maintains a sense of interaction even in the long stretches when one character is listening.
Seyd has won Backstage West awards for his productions of Cloud 9, Noises Off (which he staged at Seattle Rep, 2004) A Streetcar Named Desire, and Collected Stories.
With only two characters, By the Waters of Babylon is a study in intimacy. It spans less than 24 hours and involves virtually no plot beyond the back-stories of its two despairing, middle-aged characters and the chance encounter that brings them together.
It features Mexican actor Demian Bichir as Arturo, and Obie Award winner Shannon Cochran as Catherine. The play's first half revolves around a jittery pas de deux as Catherine chattily tries to break the ice with the initially laconic gardener. The second half is about revealing feelings long buried inside.
But not before spending a stormy night together, when misunderstanding threatens to exile them back to their separate, wounded worlds of self-loathing. Music is the condition to which Schenkkan's play frequently aspires. Soaring lyrical fantasias provide his characters with an escape from their respective plights of bitter alienation.
His script weaves together a diversity of discourses: rambling small talk, snappy one-liners, confessional monologues, and those rapturous poetic flights. While the landscapes in Babylon are mostly recreated from the imaginations of its characters, Michael Ganio's garden is an extravaganza of weeds which morphs into a more promisingly verdant aspect when seen from the bedroom in act two.
Bichir lately portrayed Fidel Castro in Steven Soderbergh's big screen project Che Guevara biopics The Argentine and Guerilla. Bichir's film Sexo, Pudor y Lagrimas held the box office record for number one movie in Mexico for three years straight, and he has been awarded numerous honors ranging from the prestigious Ariel Award for Best Actor to a medal presented by the cultural commission in Mexico City for distinction in the arts.
Shannon Cochran is also an acclaimed actor for her work on some of America's most prominent stages including Steppenwolf, The Goodman and South Coast Repertory.
She starred Off-Broadway in Bug, for which she was the recipient of the 2004 Theatre World Award, an Obie Award and was nominated for a Drama Desk Award. In By the Waters of Babylon, both Bichir and Shannon Cochran create moments of startling intensity. A must watch production!