Slow Dancing

Slow Dance on the Killing Ground Nov. 9. 10. 11--Loeb Ex Also at Eliot House. Nov. 16. 17. 18

THE SET HAS ALL the poetic banality of a George Segal environment: the grimy interior of a small soda shop, complete with three tattered barstools, and "oldies" juke box and an empty cigarette machine: its general bleakness is dimly lit by a purple noon glow. Here, in the black heart of the Brooklyn werehouse district, on a December night in 1962, a German immigrant shopkeeper, a schizoid ghetto youth and a Jewish NYU coed encounter each other and, in the course of two hours (the action is continuous), slowly, painstakingly post off the one another's marks, wrestling out each other's hidden guilts.

First produced in 1964, William Hanley's play is a psychodrama grounded in the American early sixties, directly, if somewhat naively with the preoccupations of the social moment: Adolf Eichmann's trial for Nasi war crimes, the tragedy of illegal, abortion, and the dawning awareness of what "rest life" was like in the ghetto. Three strangers' show dance of natural explorations evolves from hostility to compassion; but compassion proves powerless to save any of them from the private pain of remorse of the social fatality of the "killing ground" outside.

Obviously on the run, a black youth named Randall bursts into the shop as Glas, its aged, stony, tight-lipped owner is absorbed in taking inventory. Randall, who boasts an I.Q. of 185, and who, in his brash bellicosity mingles canned ghetto jargon with quotes from Kafka and Francis Bacon, begins to verbally assault Glas's defensive taciturnity.

HARPING ON Adolf Eichmann's recent execution, Randall drives the reluctant Glas to speak of his own war experience--the horrors he, as a Communist and a political prisoner, witnessed in a concentration camp. Moved beyond expectation, Randall drops his own mask for a moment, pays tribute to Glas in a gush of sincerity, and resumes his bantering act, in order to tell of the hard times of his own life in the ghetto.

But this is only the first round of confessions. A trial-like motif continues in the second act, with the addition of a third defendant: Rosin, a bright Jewish girl from the Bronx, who has lost her way coming from an illegal abortionist, and just happens to be writing a thesis on the survivors of Nazi concentration camps. Rosie catalyzes a series of cross-examinations which reveal that Glas's story is just a guilty cover for his real complicity. A mock trial, where Randall acts as judge and executioner, aids Glas in the symbolic expiation of his guilt, and leads Randall to confess his own secret crime--the murder of his mother, which will bring imminent capture. In the end, Randall goes back into the streets, while the others, powerless to help him, are left to follow the dark roads of their own fates.

Director Jean Kalavski makes an admirable effort at bringing Hanley's moralistic and melodramatic period place to life. But weaknesses in the acting make an already difficult task impossible. Ira Flak's interpretation of Glas's impassivity often turns to feeble characteriessness. Michael Russell's Randalf is strong, if monotonous, in his hiply ostentatious bamer, but the moments where he ought to break down into sincerity are less credible even than his tough facade. Lexye Levin perhaps carries it off the best of the three; her sardonic brazenness as Ronie brings to the all-too-slow dance the saving grace of a little humor.