By Larry Taylor/Garden Grove Journal
Howard Korder’s enlightening, “In A Garden” looks behind the tensions and misunderstandings between western and middle eastern countries. The timely play is currently being given its world premiere in a splendid production at South Coast Repertory.
Situated in a country clearly representing Iraq, the plot line does not directly concern the Iraqi war, but does get at its underlying causes. Beneath the civilized veneer of the characters depicted, a seething violence is palpable which finally breaks out.Taking a fine cast along this line dividing order and chaos, is the capable hand of director David Warren.
As the situation unfolds, a young American architect, Hackett (a pleasantly assertive Matt Letscher), is called to an Arab country, Aqaat, and offered a commission to build a summer house by the minister of culture, Othman (Mark Harelik, effectively, both charming and sinister).
The two actors are perfect in contrasting roles which could easily have become racial caricatures. The fair-haired Letscher, is full of capitalistic enthusiasm, while swarthy Harelik, with his calculating demeanor, constantly questions Hackett’s self-serving assertions.
The American wants to quickly close the deal. Othman, however, wants to discuss in detail all aspects of the job, eager to show off his knowledge about architects and culture. He pours over minute points, frustrating Hackett who has to keep returning to Aqatt with revisions. In fact, Othman seems more interested in debating politics, reciting poetry, and discussing American films than finalizing plans.
Hackett is thus caught up in a kafkaesque situation, going back and forth while four years pass, but never getting the contract. Along the way, adding to the intrigue of the situation, it becomes apparent both are concealing things from each other.
Much like in a therapy session, they ultimately begin relating unsavory secrets about themselves. But finally Hackett has had it and withdraws. Their relationship descends into an accusatory shouting match. The despotic president enters the picture, and the situation plays out.
In one aspect, the play illustrates the way two disparate cultures conduct business, one looking for clarity; the other subterfuge. Of course, this can be related to the lead-in to the Iraqi war – the U. S. wanting to inspect; Iraq wanting to conceal. In the play’s climax, it is 2004, and the real life parallels become all too apparent.
The scenic design by Christoper Barreca is wonderfully evocative. Huge blocks of stone in a government building suggest a temple from old Babylon, while jars and furniture bring an ancient world back.
“In A Garden” can be seen through March 28 on SCR’s Agyros Stage in Costa Mesa.