April 11, 2006

'Sickle' by Sophia Romma (New York Times Review)

A few too many theatrical experiments are being conducted simultaneously in "Sickle," a drama by Sophia Romma that would be more powerful if it were less clever. The play jumps around in time, switches between real and imagined conversation, and gives one central character a distracting speech impediment that serves little purpose. Also, it's written, not very elegantly, in verse.

Ms. Romma, who emigrated from the Soviet Union with her parents 25 years ago, says in publicity material that the play draws on the experiences of her grandparents. Here, with the names Yelena and Mikhail, they are nicely played by Emily Mitchell and Stu Richel, and we first meet them in 1958 as they are being badgered by some kind of tribunal. Eventually (and too elliptically), it emerges that their offense was to run a business that, A., was successful, and, B., gave jobs to mentally impaired Jews. The chief interrogator (Matt Zehnder) is a repellent man with a stutter, and a small and obvious point is made about his offensive attitude toward the disabled when he has an imperfection himself, but the device mostly just ends up calling attention to itself.

The grandparents' story (which at one point takes a detour back to 1943) is intertwined with vignettes from 1991 featuring their rather airheaded American granddaughter, Sonya (Heather Massie). She visits Moscow, where she encounters civil unrest and an unlovable man named Dimitri (Malcolm Madera), with whom, of course, she falls in love.

Some points of comparison between the tales are available for contemplating -- the grandparents' lives of genuine hardships imposed from without versus the granddaughter's life of needless, self-generated hardship, for instance. Basically, though, the play has only one moment of genuine drama, a terrible compromise Yelena makes to get out of prison, and it is surrounded with so much clutter that it doesn't register strongly.

"Sickle" continues through Sunday at the Sargent Theater, American Theater of Actors, 314 West 54th Street, Clinton; (212) 868-4444.

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