Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Leanne Baumung, top, stars as Anna the sniper, and Eun Sook Kim as Rosamond in the double production, "Fair Rosamond and Her Murderer"/"Necropolis" at Ernst Lab Theatre. Jesse Ross performs in both productions as Rosamond's would-be murderer-turned-lover and as a war correspondent who crosses paths with the sniper.

Love under the gun
in dual one-act plays

"Fair Rosamund and Her Murderer"/"Necropolis": Presented by the UH-Manoa Department of Theatre and Dance, continues at 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Ernst Lab Theatre. Tickets are $8, with discounts for students, seniors, military, faculty and staff. A post-show rap will follow Friday's performance. Call 956-7655.

Ever felt you were having a hard time finding love? Consider the plight of the characters in "Fair Rosamund and Her Murderer" and "Necropolis," two one-act plays being presented tag-team style in the University of Hawaii at Manoa Ernst Lab Theatre. In "Rosamund," an assassin falls in love with the woman he's been ordered to kill, while in "Necropolis," a war correspondent discovers that the woman he picked up for a one-nighter is a sniper who spends her days stalking and killing people she defines as "the enemy."

UH graduate student director M A Richard adds a touch of surrealism by having Jesse Ross play both male characters. Eunsook Kim is Rosamund. Leanne Baumung is the sniper. This isn't the first time playwright Don Nigro's one-act works have been juxtaposed this way, but the pairing of these stories works well in drawing the audience in before gently but effectively shifting the emotional weight from one to the other.

"Fair Rosamund" is faster out of the gate. A jealous queen sends an assassin to penetrate the formidable labyrinth that protects her husband's beautiful young mistress. The assassin almost dies in the process; Rosamund revives him, and with a single kiss the assassin falls for her.

But if he isn't going to kill Rosamund, then what? The king will certainly kill them both. Can they find their way out of the labyrinth before his next visit?

"NECROPOLIS" is slower and more realistic in telling the story of an American correspondent and the woman he meets in a war-ravaged city. Post is divorced-with-children, and pretty much a loner. Anna is a local woman who has sex to "relieve the tension." Love has nothing to do with it.

Anna is outspoken about American naiveté when it comes to realities of war and the slaughter of civilians -- Dresden and Hiroshima are two examples she mentions. How can an American, who can leave the war zone at any time, begin to understand centuries-old passions and hatreds that have destroyed her city?

Anna describes how, as a child, one of her chores was killing ants, and that sometimes she would observe an ant for a while before killing it. If she spotted any while bathing, they were given the chance to live if they reached a certain point before she finished her bath. Anna tells Post she gets the same feeling when she watches enemy soldiers and civilians through the scope of her rifle.

Post knows slow death will probably be Anna's fate if she is captured, so asks her to take time off to be his paid guide and translator. Anna accuses him of wanting to exploit her, either for more sex or as a story subject, and suggests that they marry. If not, she'll go back to work.

By this time "Necropolis" is addressing universal themes. Who hasn't speculated about unforeseen consequences of our daily decisions -- even when it's something as simple as a route to work? And who hasn't wrestled with the challenge of wanting to "save" someone while knowing that a spur-of-the-moment decision may lead to disaster?

"Necropolis" becomes gripping theater, while "Fair Rosamund" becomes lighter and more comical as the story progresses. The assassin's initial dilemma becomes irrelevant and the action increasingly fanciful. The story is, in effect, a series of speed bumps that delays our discovery of whether Post will decide to save Anna.

BAUMUNG is compelling as Anna. She skillfully allows glimpses of the sniper's vulnerability to appear at key moments. Baumung is so convincing that you'll want Post to say "yes," although circumstances suggest it would be unwise.

Kim's heavily accented English adds an exotic, sexy element to her portrayal of the fairy-tale mistress and gives much of the comic material a saucy zing.

Ross brings a nice comic touch to his portrayal of the hapless assassin and does a convincing job as a semi-worldly American who is a bit too judgmental, a touch too prissy and oblivious to the fact that power is exercised through the barrel of a gun.

Director Richard stages the performances in the round with some of the action taking place in the audience and in the overhead lighting grid. There are probably no seats that offer a full view of all the action, but those on floor level directly across from the entrance may be the ones to try for.

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