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Tucson Weekly Unmellow Drama

'Shifted Gaze' Is Unfocused And Inelegant.

By Dave Irwin

AUGUST 31, 1998:  LOCAL PLAYWRIGHT Mark Brady has written a potentially interesting television show that harkens back to the supernatural mysteries of the Twilight Zone and Night Gallery. Unfortunately, that future script is currently trapped inside the body of his play, Shifted Gaze. It wanders the stage, confused and continually asking the question (apologies to Shakespeare), "TV, or not TV?"

The story is a melodrama about twin brothers. Scott, played by Brady himself, is blind, caring and gainfully employed. Aaron, however, is an angry, sadistic, unemployed drunk, played by Todd Lepird. Aaron is bitter at having to take care of Scott, although it appears Scott is really taking care of him, pouring his drinks, putting him to bed when he passes out, and providing the household income. The week before their 30th birthdays, a change starts taking place as Aaron begins losing his sight while Scott progressively gains his. Their parents were killed in a car crash, so they've been nurtured over the years by their Aunt Jess (Suzie Robertson). She takes them to their lifelong physician, Dr. Evan (Steve Adelson), who has no explanation, though clearly Aunt Jess knows more than she's telling.

Enter Dr. Latham (Lee Willetts). It turns out that Aunt Jess made some murky Faustian deal with Dr. Latham to save the twins at birth, the price being that one would be blind until 30, then the blindness would shift to the other for the rest of their lives. Dr. Latham also may have been responsible for the deaths of Scott and Aaron's parents, although that's never fully explained or explored. A further part of the deal seems to be that Aunt Jess will die herself on their birthday.

That's the first act.

In the second act, we meet Scott's girlfriend, Kelly Anne (Lisa Green), who proposes to him. Aaron despises her for no apparent reason, so she returns the animosity and storms out. As the transposition of sighted/blind is completed, Aunt Jess shows up with a birthday cake, explains the deal made with Dr. Latham to the stunned twins and--her role fulfilled--dies while being harangued by Aaron. So Scott leaves Aaron to marry Kelly Anne. In the very next scene, set several months later, Aaron, now attending Alcoholics Anonymous, has learned to cope with his blindness and his anger, and agrees sweetly to go to Scott and Kelly Anne's for dinner. Scott mentions that she's pregnant, with twins no less, and in a final silent tableau, you can probably guess who she's found to provide pre-natal care.

There are a number of problems with Shifted Gaze. The dialogue is occasionally tortured, as when Scott asks at the funeral, "Should I hate her for what she did, for permanently changing your life so drastically?" The characters of Aunt Jess and Kelly Anne are inconsistent, as when Jess complains to Scott about Aaron's bullying and then affectionately kisses Aaron goodbye. In the midst of an acrimonious exchange, Kelly Anne asks Aaron to dance, which they do, but soon the couple returns to fighting. The nature of the deal with the devil is unclear, as is his role in the accident that killed the twin's parents.

Scott swears repeatedly that he'll kill Aaron, but he simply walks out instead.

The biggest problem is that Brady, in his homage to his favorite TV shows, has written a teleplay. The second act has no fewer than 17 scene changes, some lasting just a few seconds, as when Aunt Jess marks a day off the calendar. However, the blackouts between these scenes sometimes took several minutes to set up. You could almost see the script saying CUT TO and DISSOLVE TO.

Unfortunately, the stage doesn't allow that. The constant scene shifting distracts deeply, undercuting the rhythm of the presentation. In addition, the inelegant exposition left many unanswered questions. The miraculous transformation of Aaron in the last 10 minutes of the play is abrupt and unfounded, since he had been consistently despicable and we see no turning point.

The cast of Shifted Gaze is enthusiastic, but they can't rescue the confusion. The sympathetic audience on opening night affectionately jeered Lepird appropriately for his character. Of note is supportive work by sound designer Johnathan Lawson. Director Rehno Geppert does what he can with the material, but this remains a play wanting to be a television show.


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