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Off-Broadway Review

Territories

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Territories
Photo Source: Stan Barouh
The two plays that make up Steven Dykes' "Territories" are rooted in very specific political contexts. "The Spoils" draws its inspiration from the General Federation of Iraqi Women, a progressive democratic organization founded in 1969, while "a light gathering of dust" evokes the history of East Germany, whose citizens were often compelled to "cooperate" with the secret police by informing on their friends and families.

I know this because I read the program notes and not, alas, because of anything that took place on stage. The problem isn't the performances; in "The Spoils," the professorially bearded Alex Draper strikes just the right balance between idealism and pomposity as a music-loving interpreter stationed in an unnamed occupied territory.

And yet Dykes' style is so frustratingly opaque, his characters so maddeningly elusive, that it's difficult to know where we are or why we've been brought there. We're simply plunged into alien situations without being given enough information to orient ourselves. Dykes apparently wanted to make the point that political progress and personal betrayal are universal themes, independent of place and time. But, paradoxically, the most universal works of art also tend to be the most specific. I did my best to meet the playwright halfway, but one of us didn't quite make it.

And then there are minor irritations, like the way "a light gathering of dust" is spelled in lowercase, so we'll know it's a poetic work of art. Also, the characters who form the play's sexual triangle are somehow able to boff like bunnies without removing their clothes; they don't even pull anything down or lift anything up. No doubt you have to tread carefully when showing explicit sex on stage, but I have to think that director Cheryl Faraone could have found a creative way around the problem that showed a bit more verisimilitude.

Presented by PTP/NYC at Atlantic Stage 2, 330 W. 16th St., NYC. July 10–31. Schedule varies. (212) 279-4200 or www.ticketcentral.com.    

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