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Twin Peaks

Morgan (top) and Ives: "Like a shhhaman sssucking a boil."
AUTUMN HORNE

Triptych is not a play about Lisa Morgan's boobs, but they deserve a shoutout. Morgan's got a stunning, stunning set of knockers.

Perhaps a gay theater critic can find more constructive uses for his time than ogling an actress' Carbonell-caliber cleavage, but it was hard this week. All throughout Triptych's 70 minutes onstage, my eyes kept returning to her: to her face, her feet, her bodacious kazatkas. After leaving, she was all I could think about. Which means you'll be hearing a lot about her in this article, and it might come at the expense of the play. But don't worry. The play's not important.

Of course, Triptych is very deep. It provides a serious, world-weary glimpse into some of life's great moral ambiguities. It's moving! Sardonic! Interspersed with moments of beauty! Vaguely experimental! It makes gratuitous use of the word cunt! It is also self-consciously poetic to such a degree that you wonder if your presence at the performance is even necessary. Some works are content to hang in the air being beautiful and clever, rapturously navel-gazing unto eternity. Audience engagement is strictly optional. This is one of those.

Triptych was written by Edna O'Brien, an Irish novelist with great sexual instincts and deep Joycean pretensions. She is good at what she does — everybody loves A Pagan Place and Lantern Slides — but ofttimes, writing that stuns from the page is dead in the theater. We need more than mysterious, meaning-laden talk to keep the eyes and brain appropriately fixed upon the stage. Have you ever tried listening to Finnegan's Wake read aloud? Not especially compelling, is it?

But as a good novelist, O'Brien at least has an understanding of what kinds of situations will excite an audience and which ones won't. Incest, for example, is perennially interesting. In fact, it was the promise of extremely weird and raunchy incest that kept me hanging on for the first half of the performance.

Alas, no deal. Not enough time for daddy-on-daughter action in such a talk- and feelings-driven drama. Triptych is basically a long deposition from three desperate women — the mistress (Sandra Ives), wife (Lisa Morgan), and daughter (Kim Morgan Dean) of a playwright named Henry, whom the audience never gets to meet. He is apparently both very charismatic (because women follow him like whipped dogs) and very evil (because he loves it when they do). The women seldom pick up on the evil: They're too busy running around with broken hearts, rejoicing over whatever teeny crumbs of affection Henry brushes their way or else plotting against the other women so they might claim more of those crumbs for themselves (which is why audiences are permitted to think, for a few breathless moments, that Kim Morgan Dean's character, Brandi, is about to seduce her father). That's the play. Cry, talk, laugh, talk, seduce, talk, drink, talk. Is it even a drama? Or is it 70 minutes of exposition about drama taking place in bedrooms offstage?

All right, that's a little bitchy. Inside Out Theatre, after all, managed to mount the most terrifying production of last year's theater season with a similarly talky piece. That was The Faith Healer, by Brian Friel (another Irish writer). But The Faith Healer wasn't self-consciously poetic: It was poetry, full of mystery, summoning a darkness in the auditorium that was palpable and inexplicable. Triptych doesn't summon much of anything but admiration for O'Brien's facility with language.

Still, Triptych has its appeal, most of which has to do with Lisa Morgan's uncanny ability to hold a stage.

Apart from Triptych, I've seen Morgan twice in the past year: once in Hatchetman, at Florida Stage, where she came on like Kathy Bates with a riding crop, and once in Golda's Balcony, a one-woman show in which she played Golda Meir. Kathy Bates and Golda Meir are wildly different characters, and Morgan was unrecognizable within them. Even now, after spending six hours in a theater with the woman, I have no idea what she might be like in person. Nothing about her remains consistent from part to part — not the way she moves her feet, not the expressions she uses to convey joy or ire, not the timbre of her voice, nothing. Her aura changes, and it's wild to see.

This is not true of the actors with whom she shares the stage in Triptych. Sandra Ives and Kim Morgan Dean are both talented, but you knew going in that Ives would be reserved, cool, and poised and that Dean would make a lot of grand gestures. Dean's MO is being over the top, and she's good at it. Ives is into dignity. Morgan is always a surprise.

In Triptych, as the long-suffering Pauline, she lets her boobies out. Not actually — there are no nips to be seen here — but metaphysically, if such a thing is possible. She is a wife protecting her man, and as such, there is a lot of body in her performance. This woman could throw a punch... and might. I was in the front row when I saw it, and her eyes were wide and her whole face trembled when she confronted the interloper, Ives' Clarissa. There was real danger there.

But she was more than a wife protecting her man. She was also a particular person in a particular set of circumstances: zany, half-drunk, bubbling over with the kind of eccentricities that it takes a lifetime to develop and that seldom appear in onstage characterizations. Lazing around the stage like a big, mean cat, body at ease but eyes fiercely attentive, stunning Clarissa with casual detonations of incredible obscenity. When they meet, she muses to herself about ladies cumming, like about whether "it's different for each one of our little cunty selves." Later, when Clarissa is amazed at how much Pauline's learned about her affair with Henry, Pauline explains that her husband tells her everything; that she sucks the information out of him "like a shhhaman sssucking a boil."

You can hear a ferocious one-upmanship in the line, in the way Morgan savors the words sucking and shaman, so obviously tasting the sensuality of the alliteration that your mouth might start sssquirting sssaliva. I am twice the woman you are, she's saying. And the way she says it proves it.

Stick a portrayal like this into virtually any show and that portrayal is likely to become the show. Here, it wasn't even a contest. Who cares if Triptych's too self-importantly hip for its own good? The drama's where you find it.


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