Meeting acute - Page 2

Gore Vidal lands an interview with Timothy McVeigh in Edmund White's Terre Haute
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Yet the director can't resist kitschy flourishes, introducing the McVeigh character, for instance, with a short piercing scream of sound and a light that illuminates Harrison standing like Hannibal Lecter behind the see-through wall of the visiting cell. Scenic designer Bruce Walters's visiting room, meanwhile, is a simple but convincingly dire arrangement of wire-woven Plexiglas walls, yellow-taped borders, and blinking security cameras.

White draws the facts of the case, as well as the style and argument from Vidal's relevant essays, into well-crafted if sometimes information-laden dialogue. It can be too clashing and unnecessarily confrontational, but it is generally graceful and filled with absorbing ideas, especially in the monologues given to the Vidal character. Unfortunately, the play gets distracted from the meat of its story. That tale not only sports an intriguing tension between two very different sorts of rebels but is politically urgent and deep, ranging from the correct response to a truly totalitarian encroachment on fundamental liberties to the dissolving relation between cause and effect in a culture dominated by mind-numbingly interchangeable images of good and evil.

Instead, the play ends up veering off into carnal considerations of repressed desires, a layer to the characters' relationship that was probably best left hinted at. The best you might say about it is that it further humanizes a figure too quickly passed off as a cartoon rather than a riddle that needs solving. But in practice it tends to trivialize what's gone before, inevitably mixing an unhelpful pinch of Freud into the media-repressed why of a terrible public act. *

TERRE HAUTE

Through May 6

Wed.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; $22–$40

New Conservatory Theatre Center

25 Van Ness, SF

(415) 861-8972

www.nctcsf.org

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