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Echoes

Many works of art require time before they are fully appreciated. This makes perfect sense, since, as Ezra Pound noted, "Artists are the antenna of the race"; that is, they see truths long before the rest of us. Such is the case with N. Richard Nash's Echoes, which, unlike his earlier work (Parting at Imsdorf, The Second Best Bed, See the Jaguar, and The Rainmaker), did not garner critical acclaim when it was first staged.

Donald Ryan as Sam and Diane Wziontka as Tilda
Donald Ryan as Sam
and Diane Wziontka as Tilda
Photo: Germinal Stage
In Germinal Stage's spare, efficient, and highly-charged production, directed and designed by Stephen R. Kramer, we can now see why Nash's message did not make it across the threshold of the American mind. In 1972, when it debuted: the horror of the war in Vietnam was in our face, with images of naked children, afire from napalm, on the cover of Newsweek and reverberating through the world via the AP wire; the Equal Rights Amendment had just been sent by Congress to the states for ratification; and the events that were to become Watergate were running below the radar. We were a nation in denial.

Fourty-four years later—as the imperialist wars continue, civil rights are abbrogated as a matter of course, and political, economic, and electoral corruption are flaunted—it is impossible to ignore a fissure in national consciousness that is broadening into an awareness of the systematic nature of the problem, and with it the increased cultural accessibility of Nash's themes. While the mask of denial still covers our mass media, with only voter suppression and the hacking of electronic voting machines standing between the corporate-state's propaganda and the truth, the majority of those who vote have moved beyond the red-blue charade, and are calling for alternate visions of society.

Austin Millard as The Person and Diane Wziontka as Tilda
Austin Millard as The Person
and Diane Wziontka as Tilda
Photo: Germinal Stage
Though Nash's story appears on the surface to examine the psychological dynamics and dysfunctions of the human heart and mind, there is subtley drawn overarching commentary on the nature of the power structure that shades the lens. Tilda (Diane Wziontka) and Sam (Donald Ryan) are prisoners of some sort, held in a room with only the most basic fixtures. In order to carve out a palatable existence, they imagine decorating their Christmas tree and playing baseball, or reciting sonnets from memory. They are occassionally visited by The Person (Austin Millard), a psychiatrist who, at different intervals, comments on the manner in which Tilda reacts to Sam's behavior.

Ryan's intensity, during Sam's moments of terror, is as frightening as his tolerance for Tilda's control issues is heartwarming. Wziontka's Tilda captivates us, as she does Sam, whom she cleverly manipulates. So convincing are her cautionary explanations that we side with her over the doctor's dogmatic analysis and prescriptive medications, until the coup de grâce, when Wziontka turns the story upside down and inside out, in a few stunning moments. Amidst this uncertain reality, Millard maintains an effective, even-keel, empirical detachment.

Donald Ryan as Sam, Diane Wziontka as Tilda, and Austin Millard as The Person
Donald Ryan as Sam,
Diane Wziontka as Tilda,
and Austin Millard as The Person
Photo: Germinal Stage
Much like the ill-considered decision of the board at Columbia University, who refused to follow the recommendations of the Pultizer committee, to bestow upon Edward Albee its best play award for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf—because of the play's profanity—only to find that today the play comes off as a mild explication of dysfunction, contemporary audiences are likely to find Nash's Echoes—which found few supporters during its initial run—now a brilliant study of mental illness in a society whose medical establishment prescribes treatment based on groupthink, insurance industry directives, and a generally unenlightened attitude toward mental health, which they define as consumer normalcy.

Germinal Stage's presentation of Echoes, by N. Richard Nash, runs through June 12th. For tickets: call 303-455-7108, or send an email to Germinal Stage.

Bob Bows



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