‘SINCERITY FOREVER’ at Brava

When director Megan Soto was first approached by Brava artistic director Raelle Myrick-Hodges, she says it was most definitely not “love-at-first-read.” In fact, in her program notes, Myrick-Hodges says Soto was “perturbed at the complexity of the script and the fact that it seemed so difficult and the subject matter was so disconcerting.”

This must have served her well. I can only imagine that approaching it from a “figuring out what the hell this is” standpoint rather than an “I love this and know exactly what to do” standpoint meant that the cast and production team studied the text even more closely — until they not only understood it but knew how to convey the meaning behind the complex language to the audience. Not unlike doing a Shakespeare play. (One of the lesser known, didn’t-have-to-memorize-in-high-school Shakespeare plays.)

Whatever they did, it worked. I’ve read this play and seen a few productions of it, but this one completely nails it. Passages that could easily have sailed over an audience’s head are brought sharply to life. Acting choices are strong and vivid. Tight direction brings it all home.

I didn’t get a chance to stay for the talkback after opening night, but I can’t imagine that audiences are as confused as the theater might have thought, because the meaning comes through quite clearly. (Not to say it’s spoon-fed. Again, think Shakespeare. The language can seem foreign and complex and overwhelming, but in a great production, the meaning always comes through.)

If you don’t know the play, let Brava’s website introduce you:

In the year of its debut, Mac Wellman’s Sincerity Forever garnered the author two Obie awards, repudiation by the NEA, and a denunciation by Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.). The play depicts a group of young people, members of the Invisible Nation, who are blinded by their belief in their own sincerity and their true American optimism….

The National Endowment for the Arts, which had given Wellman a playwrighting grant, asked him to remove NEA credit from the play which, with typical graciousness, he did, adding a note to the script saying that the play “was not made possible by the generous assistance of the NEA. I don’t know what I was thinking….”

Wellman artistically indicts society’s real issues with free speech, homophobia, and racism. By creating non-traditional heroes such as a mind-washed, white supremacist teenagers and a disappointed black, female savior-figure, Wellman successfully reveals the changing landscape of values in American society.

Hmm. That may not express the fact that this play is really hilarious. It is. And the production really brings out the humor, the anger, the genius.

One small thing, though. The program leaves out a bio of the playwright Mac Wellman. That would be fine if the playwright were dead — it’d be a bit odd to see “William Shakespeare is thrilled to make his Brava debut” — but it’d be nice if audience members unfamiliar with Wellman could learn a little more about him. So here’s a bio for you, taken from his website:

MAC WELLMAN’s recent plays are: BITTER BIERCE, at P S 122; JENNIE RICHEE, with the Ridge Theater, at The Arts at St Ann; ANYTHING’S DREAM at Mulhenberg College; and ANTIGONE, with Big Dance Company at Dance Theater Workshop. He has published two novels with Sun & Moon Press: THE FORTUNETELLER and ANNIE SALEM; Sun & Moon also published A SHELF IN WOOP’S CLOTHING, a book of poems, FROM THE OTHER SIDE OF THE CENTURY II, an anthology of plays (co-edited with Douglas Messerli), TWO PLAYS: THE LAND BEYOND THE FOREST, and CROWTET 1 and 2, the latter two volumes under the Green Integer imprint. Roof Books has recently published his MINIATURE, a book of poems. He has received numerous awards: NEA, NYFA, Rockefeller, McNight and Guggenheim Fellowships. In 1990 he received an Obie for Best American Play (BAD PENNY, CROWBAR, and TERMINAL HIP). In 1991 he received another Obie for SINCERITY FOREVER. He has received a Lila Wallace-Readers’ Digest Writers Award, and most recently the 2003 Obie for Lifetime Achievement. He is the Donald I. Fine Professor of Play Writing at Brooklyn College.

Anyway, don’t let that little surely-unintentional omission keep you away from a fantastic production of a killer, crazy play.

Sincerity Forever by Mac Wellman at Brava Theater Center, 2781 24th Street, San Francisco, through Jan 17. Tickets at brava.org.

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