NOMADS Presents: Park Beautification
Written by Bwog Staff
Last night, NOMADS presented Sylvia Khoury’s (CC ’12) original play—Park Beautification. Bwog’s resident philosopher of fine arts Alex Jones now reports.
The play was performed in a basement room of St. Paul’s Chapel that looked like it was designed to display art, not host theater. For as unexpectedly cold a night as it was, that room was boiling. There was also a large column in the middle of the space that blocked much of the stage from view. However, we should remember that this is Columbia, where space is a valuable commodity, so students groups must take what they can get. The audience, upon entering the improvised theatre, was greeted by a creepy soundtrack of children playing (in a park!).
Park Beautification was written and directed by Sylvia Khoury (CC ’12). A disgruntled man, Gene, played by Taylor Owen (CC ’11), builds wooden crosses in a nondescript city park. Audrey, a college student played by Lida Benson (BC ’14), has a temporary job cleaning up the park as a maintenance worker. Everyday, she takes down the crosses that Gene builds, all the while engrossing herself in his ludicrous obsession. Harvey, played by Alex Katz (CC ’14), has been a regular at the park for 15 years to fish from a bench near Gene’s cross construction zone. Without spoiling any of the ridiculous relational intricacy, another college student, Logan, played by Lorenzo Landini (CC ’13) has a huge role in the story as it develops.
The character of Gene represents the sorrow that lingers after a traumatic loss of life. Gene mixes this deep sadness with an equal part of lunacy. Whether Khoury intended this or not, Owens’ portrayal emphasized the character’s instability to an uncomfortable point. Severely overacting the role, Owens made Gene seem better suited for an asylum than a park. His flat character oscillated between maniacal dialogue and shouting. A whole spectrum of emotion lies between these clichéd poles, but that emotion was left untapped. Gene was the main character, and yet I did not resent his absence when he was offstage “in jail.” Without his unbalanced presence, Benson, Landini, and Katz all had gratifying chemistry on stage. Katz’s was an especially emotionally-nuanced performance. It was delicate and fun to watch.
The central conflict in the play revolves around the competing ideals of remembrance and personal fulfillment. To put it simply, how does one move on after the loss of a loved one without cheapening one’s commitment to the lost? Art should thrive in these areas of conflict. When two ideals clash, a resolution must be found. Certainly, the artist has the liberty to play with and bend reality by testing solutions in a vacuum. And by no means must every play present a positive philosophical conclusion; rather, there should at least be conflict or something—anything—interesting.
Park Beautification has initial conflict, but it yields no conclusion. Gene and Harvey have a troubling 15-year-long obsession with tradition. Logan, at times the voice of reason, attempts to shake them out of their psychosis. For the sake of remembering a loved one long gone, Harvey sacrifices his wife, son, and career. The sheer gravity of their insanity pulls Audrey into their creepy routine.
But no progress is made. Nothing changes. Logan creates room for the idealistic debate, but it never happens. The dissatisfaction of a completely conclusion-less story fit right in with the general aesthetic of the performance. The characters languish in unbelievable relationships, from which they, and the audience, gain nothing. Park Beautification sets forth from interesting premise, but does not move beyond it. No statement is made; no deeper insight is gifted.
There might have been richer emotional depths that this disappointment obscured. Indeed, a girl down the row from me sobbed throughout the entire last scene. Perhaps she saw some more profound meaning in the writing, but I remained unconvinced. The play ultimately lacked the momentum to buoy my engagement on a textual level.