Monday, June 28, 2010

Global Crunch Comes Home

At Fells Point Corner Theater, Kathleen Barber's In the Shadow of Lushan skillfully turns the political turmoil of globalization into the personal crisis of one woman. Jo-Jo Banaker (Peggy Dorsey) valiantly defends her family-owned company against the conniving efforts of Caz (Mark Scharf), director of a rival company, to take over Banaker's by financial manipulations.
The battle between Jo-Jo and Caz inflames the entire staff of the tottering company. Chic (Richard Peck), the genial foreman, worries about the future of a middle-aged man who knows only the informal mom-and-pop environment of Banaker's. Frannie (Peggy Friedman), the faithful employee, cringes at the low-paying, low-skills job that await her if the company folds. Bobby (Vic Cheswick, Jr.) blames the company's turmoil on job-stealing immigrants, too visibly represented by a new mysterious worker, the Mexican Mateo (Michael Zemarel). As the business confrontation between Jo-Jo and Caz defrosts into chapters of romance, stalemate, and mutual admiration, the relationship among the employees deteriorates into mutual suspicion and desperate scapegoating. The opening company fun, where employees mock Japanese business "shame circles," turns into an angry knife assault.
The solid cast successfully gives the turmoil of globalization a human face. Foreign competition, price wars, illegal immigration, aging industries, and "Bidding Olympics" flow off the stage as the words and gestures of the increasingly angry and exhausted workers. At the center of the meltdown, Peggy Dorsey ably presents the charm of a successful executive comfortable in working in an old-fashioned family mode but uncertain in the cutthroat politics of the new world market. Slipping abruptly from adversarial to romantic partner, Mark Scharf is a sharp, sandpaperish foil to Dorsey's more maternal persona. Vic Cheswick is especially strong as the charming Bobby, who quickly turns from fun and games to xenophobia and attempted murder.
Josh Bristol's direction of the piece is serviceable, but the multiple exits and entrances seem interchangeable. The actors are often frozen into awkward positions, as when George (E. Martin Early) speaks into the back of Jo-Jo. The movements in the sudden romance scene and the sudden knife attack seem stilted. The nondescript set conveys the gray, metallic nature of the factory (and of the gloomy world economy looming just beyond the door), but its drabness only accentuates the halting character of the player's movements.
Barber's play marks a promising beginning for this year's Baltimore Playwrights Festival. Global economic conflict becomes intimate family anguish.

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