Are reality and delusion so different?
By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
Special to The Advertiser
By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
The pair of one-acts by Mark Tjarks now at The ARTS at Marks Garage, collectively titled "Lapses of Identity," illustrate that we're not always who we think we are, and that the line between a realistic and a delusional identity is a narrow one.
But psychological underpinnings take a back seat to comedy that offers a choice — realistic and character-driven, or zany slapstick.
In "Off Key," directed by Jan McGrath, a professor of music finds herself in a hospital bed with an unclear diagnosis. It turns out that she has prosopagnosia — the inability to recognize faces — and has successfully disguised it until an ear infection thwarts her ability to compensate through verbal cues.
Now, she can't distinguish between her husband and the male nurse and is panicked at the prospect of a brain biopsy.
Playwright Tjarks uses this medical crisis as the springboard for an intimate conversation between the professor (Victoria Gail-White) and her husband (Frank South). Having never truly seen or known each other, can they really love one another? And, if they can, on what is that love based?
The answers are both ridiculous and sublime. From their kisses, she knows he has full, sensuous lips. Does she know he is a black man, he wonders? (He's not.) People find beauty in the expected and the symmetrical. Does he have regular features? If not, what are the quirky parts that make him interesting?
Tjarks' script is too long in getting to that conversation and overwrites it once he gets there, but the basic premise has interest and charm. Gail-White is effective when the character is being impatient and irascible, and South succeeds when his character stumbles into thickets of wordy confusion.
Together, they bring a glimmer of humanity to a situation that could be fanned into a brighter flame by more rigorous editing and shaping.
The second half of the evening is devoted to slapstick, with "Evil at the Post Office," directed by Alvin Chan. The title is suggestive rather than literal, since the message is delivered by three mental patients, each of whom believes to be Jesus Christ, and a psychiatrist with his own god complex.
Troy Apostol plays a geezer Jesus who moonlights as the postmaster general ("Truman owed me"), Chris Doi is a cool young stud Jesus who "smites" the nurses, engaging in sexually explicit behavior, and Kiana Rivera represents the claim that Jesus was a woman. ("Who else would have defended a harlot?")
But the word flow among these three is less interesting than their physical byplay, especially when Doi leaps onto a table to demonstrate his prowess at self-abuse and Apostol employs his cane to subdue the whippersnapper.
The treatment session takes place behind a two-way mirror, and the audience is ultimately asked to decide whether they're on the inside looking out or on the outside looking in.
Anybody feeling superior by the final scene is invited to share in the self-delusion.