"Owners" at Yale Repertory Theatre

--Irene Backalenick

In British playwright Caryl Churchill’s drama “Owners,” our cultural values are played out in personal relationships. Who owns whom or what? All--or nothing at all--which is better?

Director Evan Yionoulis takes on the challenge of “Owners” at Yale Rep, offering a provocative, but often off-putting, production. In a series of short choppy scenes, the Churchill characters are put through their paces. But these characters never make an emotional impact on the viewer, however interesting the theme. Watching “Owners” is an intellectual, not an emotional, exercise -- and a limited experience at that.

Yet the dominant theme is intriguing. Written in 1972, Churchill’s earliest play to be staged professionally, the theme is just as relevant today. Churchill forces us to take a good look at the materialistic values which drive our contemporary culture. Capitalism and its practitioners are the guilty parties, as Churchill sees it.

A skillful playwright, Churchill lets the characters embody these opposing values. The central character is Marion, a hard-driving, ruthless and highly successful real estate developer. Posed against her is Alex, a Zen-like character for whom she longs. Nevertheless, she hopes to evict Alex and his family from their flat, so she can develop the property and sell for profit.

As to style, Churchill provides a heady mix of absurdism, surrealism and gritty reality. The characters dance through a series of sexual encounters, money deals, and survival techniques. They are all puppets on a stage, and, indeed, Yionoulis uses actual mannequins from time to time to enhance the set. They can barely be differentiated from the live performers. Only Lisa, Alex’s wife, comes across as real, as she wades through a surreal world.

No wonder the viewer cannot relate to these characters, though it is intriguing to watch their shenanigans. And one cannot help but enjoy the comic aspects of these cartoon characters. Particularly enjoyable is Anthony Cochrane, playing Marion’s oafish butcher husband, and the dazzling Brenda Meaney who plays Marion herself. And Sarah Manton gives a touching portrayal of Lisa.

In summary, though “Owners” raises serious issues, interspersed with moments of comedy, the play has little long-lasting effect -- at least for this reviewer.

This review also appears in nytheaterscene.com

 

Posted 11.5.2013

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