August Strindberg’s To Damascus Part 1 is the tale of The Stranger (DeSean Stokes) a struggling writer who runs off with The Lady (Kersti Bryan) another man’s wife. They deal with The Stranger’s apparent insanity while The Stanger goes through a sort of spirituality journey (the term journey used loosely). To be frank, To Damascus Part 1 which is adapted for 1962 Harlem is almost unwatchable. It should have either been rewritten or tweaked a lot more—maybe even just left unproduced.
The lead is a character who complains about his woes from beginning to the very end. He complains and really does nothing to bring positivity into his life except for marry another man’s wife. He is essentially that friend who drains you with all his negativity. You know, the one you eventually cut off because you just cannot deal with the constant “my life is so crappy” lines. Actually, think more of an acquaintance because with a friend you at least have some empathy—for a while—before calling it quits.
The number one rule—show don’t tell—is broken too many times in this production. There are scenes that could have just been scrapped to show the scenes described in the transitions. For example The Lady and The Stranger find themselves at a hotel after running away. They talk about how they had gone through hell to arrive at a place which would accept them. This is due to being an interracial couple in their time.
Actually seeing this acted out would have been better for the script. Viewing such an ordeal would allow the audience to feel for The Stranger. We never feel sympathy only annoyance regarding every character. It doesn’t help knowing that The Stranger deserted his first wife and two children and that The Lady ran away from her husband with a man she did not even know for a week. To be honest with such stories these characters should be working double time to have the audience like them—but they do not.
What is the point of watching something if the characters are not likable?
The script tries way too hard to be deep and ground breaking. The creators seems to have spent more time on overly done dialogue instead of plot structure and the construction of a good story. A great play which will survive these New York audiences is more than just metaphors and symbolism (in which this play is rich).
Another serious problem with the script is it is unclear what every character wants. It is difficult to decipher a main goal for anyone. Characters like The Lady’s mother have change of hearts without real substance. For example she manipulates The Lady into reading a book her husband forbid The Lady to open. This reading of the book penned by her husband breaks up the couple due to the shocking content. After disappearing for a while, The Stranger returns to find The Lady; instead he finds The Lady’s Mother who has had a complete change of heart toward him. The audience is told that the change is linked to her religion but again no inner struggle is actually shown. The moment is just unfulfilling. In fact To Damascus is chock full of those moments.
Then there is the acting. Let’s just say it is not up to par collectively. It is more of a beginners acting workshop where almost every line spoken sounds the same. The characters almost lose their humanness, gaining a more robotic, unnatural delivery. It is not certain if that is a direction call by director Robert Greer. If so then Mr. Greer might want to toss his pervious direction for new.
Another disappointing factor is the fact that the play does not feel like it is set in Harlem. It gives more of a New Orleans/ southern kind of vibe.
Given what was presented, there is quite a lot of shaping up to do before I consider seeing part two or recommend anyone sit through it.
The show is being run at The Gene Frankel Theater, 24 Bond street.
To Damascus Part 1: Written by August Strindberg, adapted by Nathan James and directed by Robert Greer.
With: Desean Stokes (The Stranger), Kersti Bryan (The Lady), Nathan James (The Beggar/Ceasar), Victor Arnez (The Doctor/The Confessor), Carol Carter (His Sister and Abbess), Victoria Blankenship (The Lady’s mother), Allen Kennedy (The Lady’s grandfather), Michael Petre-Zumbrun and Karimah (Stage Managers), Angelina Margolis (Set Design), Donna Miskend (Projections), Kate DaRocha (Costumes), Miriam Crowe (Lighting), Andy Evan Cohen (Sound), Alex Mannix, (Associate Lighting Designer), Lance Harkins (Technical Director), Sean Levine (Carpenter), Sidney Branch (House Manager), Mary-Ann Tu (Webmistress), Katie Ostrowski (Social Media), Johnathan Slaff (Press Representative) and Gail Thacker (Managing Director).