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a Drama
by Robert Clyman

COMPANY : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
ID# 3619

SHOWING : January 14, 2010 - February 07, 2010



This January, Aurora Theatre invites you to curl up with the fascinating psychological drama Tranced, by nationally renowned playwright and psychologist Bob Clyman.

Dr. Phillip Malaad, a highly respected psychiatrist famous for “trancing,” helps his patients uncover suppressed memories. As he trances Azmera, a foreign grad student, Phillip discovers a secret that may have dire consequences for an already struggling country. Phillip relies on building a relationship with an ambitious journalist who has a connection with the Director of African Affairs. As the play unfolds, the action spirals into quite an unexpected conclusion.

Producer Anthony Rodriguez
Director Susan Reid
Sound Designer Chris Bartelski
Lighting Designer Jessica Coale
Scenic Designer Britt Hultgren
Costume Designer Linda Patterson
Azmera Naima Carter
Beth Cara Mantella
Logan Chad Martin
Phillip Maurice Ralston
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production


The Needs of the Many
by Dedalus
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Let me state right off the bat that Bob Clyman’s “Tranced” (and its staging by Susan Reid and the Aurora Theatre) is one of the best and most compellingly watchable plays I’ve seen in a while. And yet, it is rife with choices and aspects that would (maybe even should) raise the hackles of any self-respecting student of theatre.

Dr. Philip Malaad is a respected psychologist of indeterminate ethnicity. In his first speech to us, he gives a run-down of the various genetic threads that make up his rather picaresque family history. Into his office comes Azmera, a graduate student from a (fictional) African nation. She is suffering from panic attacks and blackouts. Dr. Malaad “trances” her into a state in which she can unearth the horrific incidents that underlie her malaise.

As we are learning Azmera’s story, we are also seeing a journalist (Beth), who, with Azmera’s permission, is taking her story to the state department in order to influence an aid package going to Azmera’s country to assist in the building of a new dam project.

As the play unfolds, we get glimpses into the atrocities that plagued Azmera’s nation as well as into the techniques and psyches of her doctor and the journalist. As the play unfolds, Dr. Malaad’s methods and history get called into question, his admittedly manipulative methodology put under more scrutiny than he would want. As the play unfolds, we get glimpses into the Alpha Male world of international diplomacy, a world in which genocide can fail to get your attention. And as the play concludes, we are left with the rug pulled out from under all the characters and from under ourselves as the manipulations behind all the manipulations become manifest and stark.

This being said, what is the play really about? Is it about the manipulative nature of psychotherapy or the ease with which psychotherapists can manipulate (or be manipulated)? Is it about the ethics of journalism, in which a single exchange student can (and should) be sacrificed for the story? Is it about “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one?” Is it about the personal sacrifice of integrity one makes when one walks the halls of power? Is it about the depressing similarity between despot nations and American security with its propensity for putting people “on a list?” Is it about our Western penchant for paternalism when it comes to Africa (“Oh! An atrocity in Africa? Of course we believe it without question!”), even to the point of creating a fictional country that is probably more real than any real nation? Is it a gentle diatribe (if you’ll forgive the oxymoron) against prejudging people based on appearance, on background, on gender, on religion? Or is it just a raging scream against a national mindset that not only accepts genocide, but feels no guilt about ignoring it?

The truth is, it is all these things. Aristotle’s “Unity of Theme” is cheerfully tossed aside, as Clyman’s script not only embraces all these motifs (and more), but also makes them seem paradoxically unified, as if they were all fragments of a whole, variations on a nebulous over-riding concept that is just outside the focus of our analysis and comprehension.

The play also contains little or no movement. Two sets sit side-by side – Dr. Malaad’s coldly colorless and bricklike office and the Under-Secretary-of-States coldly colorless modern office. Each scene is essentially a two-character block in which people sit and talk. What is so compelling is who the people are, how they conflict, what they say. Conversation is rarely given this dynamic a role in a play, rarely succeeds as these scenes succeed. So compelling are the conversations that I didn’t even notice the lack of movement until I overheard someone at intermission commenting on it. For the second Act, I tried to take note of it, but was immediately swept up in the current of the plot, of the characters, of the hydra-headed theme(s).

Not least of the many reasons for the success of this piece is the incredibly talented cast. Maurice Ralston (in what may be one of his final area performances) gives Dr. Malaad a cold charm that sweeps us past his initial intellectual remove. He finds dark humor in the misconceptions that come his way, and gradually reveals a fierce loyalty to his patient that pay off emotionally for us. Cara Mantella is wonderful as the reporter Beth, passionate about the story that has fallen onto her lap, finding herself drawn to Dr. Mallad even as she realizes how he is manipulating her. Chad Martin is a multi-layered Logan, (the Under-Secretary-of-State for African affairs) who grows from an unpleasant and untrustworthy chauvinist Alpha Dog with his eye on his boss’s job, to someone who grasps that what he does may be more important than his final career path.

But it is Naima Carter Russell’s Azmera who is the heart and soul of this piece. Gilding her lines with a gentle (and unspecific) African dialect, she is intelligent, self-deprecating, sad, passionate about her homeland, and always compellingly watchable. It is through her that all the reversals of the story come to fruition and surprise us without feeling contrived, or as if the playwright is pulling her strings. I believed in her, and wanted to see more of her.

Scenic designer Britt Hultgren Ramroop does the impossible here, creating two closed-in and claustrophobic spaces that somehow seem at home beneath an open African sky. Symbolically manifesting the closed-in Western mindset about Africa, it also carries a sense of freedom for the characters and their efforts. It is a beautiful and well-crafted set, and it serves the story in ways both subtle and obvious. Credit also needs to go to lighting designer Jessica Coale and Sound designer Chris Bartelski for creating the worlds, both real and remembered, of these people.

So, what does it say about us, if we remain unmoved by a nameless genocide in a far off country that may or may not even exist? I’ve spoken before about how difficult it is to dramatize atrocity, how too often we’re numbed by its namelessness, bored by its clichés. Successful plays usually dwell on it as reflected on characters, or manifest it with surreal or poetic images, or just overwhelm with sheer horror.

This play tosses the whole paradox back into our faces – It not only shows with compelling ferocity our complicity in atrocity, it rubs our faces in the fact that we are disappointed when it is not what it seems.

“Tranced” is a completely engaging, totally mesmerizing play, and I was quite “entranced” by it.

-- Brad Rudy (

Not a Crowd-Pleaser
by playgoer
Sunday, January 17, 2010
"Tranced" is an unusual choice for the Aurora Theatre. The Aurora tends to produce accessible fare. "Tranced," on the other hand, is a dense, philosophical, serious play without much leavening humor. It would be more at home at one of the more "serious" venues in Atlanta, such as the Alliance's Hertz Stage.

An engaging lighting design by Jessica Coale illuminates the handsome set design of Britt Hultgren Ramroop. Unobtrusively elegant costuming by Linda Patterson clothes the actors as they work the stage or sit behind the set in a visible bank of chairs. Visually, the production is appealing.

Intellectually, the play is also appealing. The first act builds up a series of fragmented African memories into what appears to be a coherent story, and the second act deconstructs that story in a surprising way. Action flows smoothly through the interactions of psychologist Dr. Phillip Malaad (Maurice Ralston) with his patient, Azmera (Naima Carter Russell), and with journalist Beth (Cara Mantella), with a few side interactions between Beth and government functionary Logan (Chad Martin).

Viscerally, though, the play is far less appealing. Maurice Ralston's voice adopts a droning, somewhat stilted delivery as the multi-ethnic Dr. Malaad. Combined with the slightly nasal whine intrinsic to Cara Mantella's speech patterns, the audio portion of the show is not appealing. Naima Carter Russell's African accent is highly effective, but her part consists of a number of monologues that tend to reinforce the static nature of speech in the play. The slow build-up in act one found audience members nodding or snoring.

"Tranced" is a very dry play. The Aurora traditionally schedules a dark play during this time of the year, but "Tranced" doesn't balance the darkness with any audience-pleasing performances or gasp-inducing twists. This is a professional production down to the core, but it's not a particularly good fit with Aurora's historical choice of material.

The actors all do sterling work, although Maurice Ralston's Dr. Malaad is a bit too self-contained to allow the audience to feel much empathy for him. Chad Martin, on the other hand, manages to pull off the task of turning a somewhat lecherous, party-line bureaucrat into a generally likeable character. Much of the credit for that goes to Cara Mantella, whose reactions to his most off-putting behavior limits their emotional weight. Ms. Mantella gives an emotionally honest performance throughout. Naima Carter Russell, as privileged African student Azmera, tracks the emotional arc of her character with skill, although the plot lets her character down somewhat in the denouement. Still, she (and the other actors) do commendable work in this unrelievedly serious play.
But Saturday's crowd WAS pleased by uppermiddlebrow
Playgoer and I have similar takes on Tranced, right down to surprise at Aurora picking it for their season. But our judgments seem to differ on whether serious is good in theater. My position on that is quite clear: in our generally trashy culture, I can use almost all the seriousness I can get. That's quite likely a minority view on this website, so set aside or calibrate my opinion, (which I deliberately make easy by using the name 'uppermiddlebrow').

Perhaps more interesting than personal opinions are observable facts. On a drenched Saturday night in Lawrenceville, Aurora's house was full and the audience gave a standing ovation for Tranced. Against Playgoer's dozing neighbor, I'd set a pretty lively-looking crowd at intermission. Tranced WAS a crowd-pleaser. Perhaps Playgoer went on a different night when the audience response was tepid - or perhaps Playgoer just assumes (as I would have, too, absent seeing otherwise) that suburban theater audiences don't want to be asked to think. Let's not assume that and let's not discourage directors from bringing intelligent work to Atlanta's stages - unless we are fairly sure it will bankrupt their companies, which none of us wants.
Season Ticket Perspective by playgoer
Season ticket holders buy subscriptions because of their expectations of what the season will hold. Expectations are generally based on past history. "Tranced" is more challenging material than Aurora has typically produced, although the musical "Floyd Collins" was also a risk-taking choice (several seasons ago).

The Sunday afternoon audience at the performance I attended was made up largely of season ticket holders. There was no standing ovation. The only remarks I overheard were negative. It was clear that the play had not engaged the attention of all members of the audience. I enjoyed "Tranced" a great deal, but the resistance of much of the audience (particularly the person next to me) tempered that enjoyment.

Organizations that rely largely on season subscriptions (such as the Aurora) have to select a season with care in order to ensure renewals. This season started with a crowd-pleaser ("Kiss Me, Kate") and holds the promise of ending with another("Boeing, Boeing"). In between, the pickings haven't been lush. Another season ticket holder has expressed disappointment to me about the unfinished quality of the writing of "Buy My House... Please!" and the endless-retread edition of "Christmas Canteen." Next up is "A Catered Affair," which promises to challenge audiences a bit too. I'd hate to see Aurora's selection of plays affecting its renewal rate for next season.

My experience is that Gwinnett audiences are not generally as sophisticated as Fulton audiences, and have no desire to be. Whether that is good or bad is certainly open to discussion. It's wonderful to see a top-notch production wherever it may be presented, but I have no desire to see Aurora turn into another Actor's Express or Horizon. I expect lighter fare there.
Don't be put off by uppermiddlebrow
I wouldn't want anyone considering whether to catch Tranced to take from my comments that it's a deadly solemn play, or a weird one in the way that Homebody Kabul was, for example. The dialogue and plot are naturalistic - no post-modern murk here. There's humor in the interactions and flirtations. And the final plot twist has plenty of irony, up-ending any threatened preachiness. Of course, it is not like attending Oklahoma for your 79th time either.
You'll be Tranced too, if you liked Mauritius or Third
by uppermiddlebrow
Sunday, January 17, 2010
Aurora’s strong production of the new play, Tranced, is on a par with two of last year’s best Atlanta shows: Mauritius and Third. The three works all feature forceful characters, strong dialogue and psychological insight. The lead theme of Tranced is richer than that of the other two plays: population removal in resource-rich Africa trumps stamp collecting and student plagiarism. The play explores the proper roles of psychiatrists, journalists and diplomats, disentangles its protagonists’ motives, probes their manipulativeness, poses questions about sufficiency of evidence and asks when an individual can be sacrificed to protect a community. Fortunately, playwright Bob Clyman on the whole manages to avoid clichés and predictable judgments. His plot has good momentum and almost more ironic twists than one can absorb in one sitting. At times, however, the political and moral ideas threaten to swamp the drama and reduce the characters to mouthpieces. But deft direction, a well-matched four-hander cast and a spot of good old sexual tension keep the threat at bay.
Maurice Ralston renders the private, controlling psychiatrist well, and is equally comfortable revealing his character’s desperate sense of shame. He does a nice job, too, of maintaining the unplaceable accent that is important to his identity. (It is sad that Atlanta – especially the Shakespeare Tavern - will lose Mo Ralston after he finishes this Aurora gig.) Naima Carter charms and convinces as the student daughter of a prosperous African family seeking hypnosis therapy. Chad Martin gives his somewhat two-dimensional part, as the young under-secretary at State, enough interest and depth to stay in the game. Cara Mantella, who also acted in Mauritius and Third, brings her magnetism, aggression and vulnerability to the part of the crusading journalist. She steamrolls Mr Ralston and Mr Martin in her duels with them, though they seem to enjoy the experience. If she steals her scenes, the play is none the worse for that.
As a confirmed inside-the-perimeter type I was a bit non-plussed to find a play as intellectually engaging as Tranced in darkest Gwinnett, and pleasantly surprised at the enthusiastic reception of the audience. All praise to Aurora for entrancing us with this fine play, finely wrought by a strong acting quartet.


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