The first thing that seems to suggest that a metaphor is intended in Carter W. Lewis’s “Echo Location” is the pending marriage between the white university professor, Benjamin Rindell, and his black fiancée, Emmy. In the play’s opening scene, the two are sitting on the lawn in Rindell’s backyard. Rindell is distressed because he accidentally killed his neighbor’s cat, when he was burglarizing his home. The neighbor, whom, we later learn, Rindell has never met, is the black former lover of Emmy, and Rindell had attempted to retrieve her clothes, which were still in the guy’s house, apparently.
Okay, so we already have a couple of imponderables, and we aren’t even through the first scene. The idea of a metaphor emerges from the play’s heavy-fisted (pardon the pun) demand by the neighbor (nicknamed Bluetooth for reasons that are too irrelevant to explain) that he be allowed to physically hurt Rindell (by punching him in the face) as revenge for … ah, there’s the metaphor.
Or have we misunderstood playwright Lewis’s intention in crafting the multi-layered story that ultimately involves Rindell’s previously deceased sister and his prior relationship with her, the sudden revelation that he may have a 15-year-old daughter from a now-deceased one-time lover, and a denouement that seems even more far-fetched than much of what precedes it? When you sit through an otherwise entertaining, often humorous, one-act play (80 minutes in length) that also includes clever dialogue by all four characters, you want a little more payoff than bewilderment over what point (or points) were intended as you leave the theater.
That, at least, was our reaction to the production (directed by Buck Busfield) that is being offered on the stage of the B Street Theatre this month. The play features a terrific set design (credited to Sam Reno), and some excellent acting. But it lacks cohesion and leaves too many questions unanswered, one of them being what theme that metaphor is intended to convey. Our guess is the ongoing and ever-present scourge of racism, whose victims continue to feel a lack of vindication.
B Street regular Kurt Johnson heads the cast as Rindell. Mr. Johnson does a nice job with a role that is less than fully developed. Unfortunately, it requires of him that he do a lot of shouting, and we’ve seen him in that kind of role too often in the past. We’d like to see him emote less bombastically, but that may be an unfair criticism in this instance.
Maya Lynne Robinson is a nice counter-balance as Emmy. She effectively conveys her understanding of and love for Rindell (Bendell is her nickname for him) and makes her character the easiest of the four to relate to. Also impressive were Age Aguiue as Bluetooth and Sarah Grodsky as Rindell’s 15-year-old possible daughter. Ms. Grodsky’s portrayal of Allison made the character seem much older than fifteen, but, again, whether that is a fault attributable to her acting or the intent of the playwright is uncertain.
The play’s noted flaws notwithstanding, “Echo Location” is entertaining. We would have benefitted from an author’s note or other background notes in the printed program, but none were provided. Left to our own devices, we’ll stick with the metaphor conceit. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work real well in this play. Blame it on excessive subplots that clutter the message and underdeveloped story lines that beg for clarity.
Performances of “Echo Location” by Carter W. Lewis continue on the main stage of the B Street Theatre through February 28. Tickets and information are available at the theater box office (2711 B Street), by phone (916-443-5300) or online (bstreettheatre.org).