Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Saturday Night at the Palace - Talkinbroadway.com Review

posted by Nick Cernoch at 11:24 AM

Saturday Night at the Palace

Sean Blakemore, Eric Pargac and Shawn Lee
I'll be honest with you. For a while there, I wasn't sure about Saturday Night at the Palace. The production comes with a pretty spiffy pedigree: Furious Theatre Company is revisiting the award-winning show that launched the company six years ago, with the same cast and director (and some of the original designers). Knowing the show was well received the first time around, and knowing that it could only benefit from the artists' growth and experience in the interim, the prospect seemed like a dead-bang winner.

And yet, at times, the play seems to drag. Paul Slabolepszy's play, rarely produced in the U.S., about a racially charged incident (inspired by an actual event) in 1982 South Africa, takes a lot of time to build. We're dealing with what happens when two young white men are stranded - courtesy of their broken motorcycle - by a roadside burger stand at 2:00 a.m., when the only person at burger stand is a black waiter who just wants to lock up and go home. And you know - you absolutely know - from the increasingly frenetic drumbeats that herald the play's opening, that this isn't the sort of play that's going to end with all three men learning a little bit about each other and becoming the best of friends. It's going to get intense, and dark, and ugly. It just takes its time getting there.

Slabolepszy shouldn't really be blamed for taking his time. The purpose of Saturday Night at the Palace isn't to shock the audience with the acts that ultimately occur; the purpose is to investigate the complex web of motivations that can lead to racial hatred and violence. (For a play about South Africa under Apartheid, there are an uncomfortable number of similarities to issues we've heard raised in the current presidential campaign.) But, in order to do this, the play has to really establish Forsie and Vince as something more than two young white thugs, and September as something more than an innocent Zulu waiter. And, since the guys' language is peppered with Afrikaans, while September speaks a bit of Zulu, it isn't the easiest thing to follow, and the audience isn't immediately drawn into the piece.

And then ... it happens. You can actually see the turning point in the play. Vince snags September's keys, preventing him from locking up. Forsie, who had previously been friendly (if a bit condescending) to September, first tries to get the keys back for the man. But when Vince tosses the keys to Forsie in a game of "keep away," Forsie takes the side of his friend, rather than the waiter, and events get on the unstoppable train to edge-of-your-seat, heart-pounding theatre.

It is, when you get right down to it, Furious doing what Furious does best: a harrowing scene, not just of violence and cruelty, but the darker side of human interaction. Humiliation and dehumanization arising out of desperation and frustration - a battle born of individuals trying to empower themselves when there isn't enough power to go around. The cast is a fearless ensemble willing to go right to the edge, working under the confident direction of Dámaso Rodriguez, who takes them there. Each escalation of the stakes is a surprise, yet it also conveys an element of sadness for the lost opportunity at a peaceful resolution. Slabolepszy's script pays off, as everything that happens is character driven. This isn't a quick, shocking cap on the play, but the meat of the play itself - a well-paced, enthralling series of confrontations that builds to a stunning conclusion. Saturday Night at the Palace starts out slow, but by the end, it is unforgettable.

Saturday Night at the Palace runs at the Pasadena Playhouse Carrie Hamilton Theatre through May 31, 2008. For tickets and information, see www.furioustheatre.org.


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