‘Lazarus Syndrome’ at Richmond Triangle Players: Guilt Lite
“And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth …” John, 11:43-44. King James edition.
Bruce Ward’s play, “Lazarus Syndrome,” is having its second ever production right here in Richmond at Richmond Triangle Players.
In the Bible, Lazarus was of course, raised from the dead and that’s just how our play’s main character Elliot feels after having survived to age 50 being HIV positive, long after many of his friends have gone. His young boyfriend can’t console him. His brother and father drop by with matzoh ball soup, latkes and brisket (this a Jewish family, nu?) but they can’t lift his spirits. He is more than a sad sack. He is afflicted with the “Lazarus Syndrome,” which in this case amounts to survivor’s guilt. We are led to believe the guilt is confined to having survived the uninformed behaviors of the 70’s and 80’s. And it does in part. There is, however, more guilt to be had.
Elliot deals with his guilt badly, not getting dressed or going out of the house, forsaking his musical career and pupils. He is a mess. He starts having encounters reminiscent of the journeys we used to see on “The Twilight Zone.” In the end, Elliot is alone and left with his Syndrome, not really any better off for his journey. Which leaves one to wonder, what, if anything, really happened here?
For all the title intimates, Elliot never really deals with his guilt. The character is missing some crucial monologues which would have brought us into his world and his pain. Rather than go down that road, the playwright keeps things light and on the surface.
As an “Acts of Faith” submission, “Lazarus Syndrome” is a curious choice. Faith does not battle against the evils present, even if the evil is Elliot’s own guilt. His faith, or lack of it never comes into play. We can only guess at how Elliot’s collective, or individual losses have changed him on the inside. We only get the physical manifestations.
An “Act of Faith” doesn’t have to be religious. Still the playwright goes out of his way to show us that this is a Jewish family but then keeps that part of Elliot’s experience at arm’s length. Survivor’s guilt makes for a lively discussion, I suppose, but it seems there was a missed opportunity here.
There’s no real dramatic arc to the story just a reveal that finally, at the end of 80 minutes, makes some sense. In the meantime, the characters do a lot of bantering. They also prepare food and play musical chairs around the table while eating. That always gives good actors a chance to inhabit and make interesting the characters they play, and on the whole, very good actors do very good work. But the gimmicky plot and over-cute dialogue never allows any one of them to really take off.
Alan Sader comes closest because his character, the father Jake, has the most joy to offer. He sings, he dances, he dispenses wisdom and smacks his grown sons on the head when they curse. Mr. Sader is a joy to watch and we wish he had a more developed human to inhabit.
Andrew Firda delivers a steady, if slightly too passive sad sack as Elliot. You never feel he cares to get a grip on what’s happening to him or has any desire to rise above it. Mr. Firda is a very accomplished actor but here he plays the middle ground, not to hot and not too cold. Still, it doesn’t feel just right. I wished he would have taken a stand either way and drove the piece more.
Andrew C. Boothby gives the character of Ned, Elliot’s brother, a very nice turn. Although underwritten, Mr. Boothby mines some unexpected comedy and pathos from his role that enlivens the banter.
Stevie Rice has the unenviable job of making Steven, Elliot’s partner, something more than the stock chorus boy that is written. Mr. Rice’s Steven has a winning charm and such a sweet loving heart that you don’t want to fault him for driving his character even more into Cutesville.
Keith Fitzgerald’s direction is notable for weaving a tight family dynamic but also for not elevating the problematic script beyond its borders.
David Allan Ballas has given RTP one of its most accomplished sets. Angular and roomy, dramatic in its modular confinements, dressed with exquisite hangings and set pieces, all of which are shown to their best advantage under Andrew Bonniwell’s skilled lighting design. Alex Valentin’s costumes featured some lovely suits, a cheesy bathrobe and boxers and one hell of a “Fiddler on the Roof” getup.
“Lazarus Syndrome” is a pleasant if unremarkable evening. It could have been a contender.
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