Yehuda Hyman tries awfully hard in his theater/dance work, The Mar Vista to honor his family’s colorful history, particularly that of his romantic-minded mother who got out of Europe via Turkey avoiding, as his European-born father did, the Nazi scourge.
He is somewhat stymied by a naïvely direct, unsubtle approach. This very warm and passionate story deserves an imaginative style, not overly simple choreography and mime, unclear chronology and an insistence on making himself the star of his family’s interesting—but by no means out of the ordinary—tale.
The title means “sea view,” a metaphor for the fact that his mother’s happiest memories involved being mesmerized by large bodies of water. All the places she felt happiest were by the sea, even—with a stretch of the imagination—the suburb of Mar Vista, L.A., with its wispy view of the Pacific. It was, therefore, dramatically sensible that the final scene should take place on the island off Istanbul where his mother’s family vacationed.
He gets waylaid, in particular by his eagerness to be “honest” about his homosexuality, unbalancing the work with a long coda that takes place on that very island, gently glorifying a flirtation with a Turkish cop. Perhaps he was trying to say that both he and his mom found pleasure there, but that point was never made, even after he was assured that he was standing where his mother had stood half a century before.
To be sure, this is a heartfelt story with a few pleasant moments, most particularly a trip to downtown Los Angeles with his angry mom where young Yehuda learned much about her. Even the flirtation scene had a breathlessness lacking in the rest of the work.
His troupe of five, members of his Mystical Feet Company, work hard but lack solid dance and acting technique. Amanda Schlussel as the mother is a delicate creature with a core of steel, but is not convincing as an exotic European. She did look beautiful in a pale blue dress that features heavily in the plot. (Dad was a first rate tailor.)
As the father, Ron Kagan was effectively hang-dog, but his transformation from pleasant suitor to dreadful husband wasn’t fully fleshed out. In several roles, including the likeable Turk, Ryan Pater had a stalwart calmness and grace. Dwight Richardson Kelly’s innate sense of humor and lanky movement style carried him through even the most awkward moments. Tall, bearded guitarist Ezra Lowrey provided some musical background and acted a few small parts.
Yehuda Hyman, quite frankly, doesn’t look like a dancer even though, at times he moves with a quicksilver grace under a puckish, but amusing face.
Although Kryssy Wright is credited with the set design, that might be taking credit for very little as the set consisted mostly of several chairs and an odd oil painting. Her light design was simple and clear. (Some slide or video projections would have helped.) The costumes of Amy Page were simple, but clear stabs at period correctness.
Written and choreographed by Mr. Hyman in collaboration with his gallant troupe, Mystical Feet Company, The Mar Vista needs the objective ministrations of someone not involved in Mr. Hyman’s story, a theater person—a dramaturg?—who might cut somethings, suggest additions or different points of view and just turn an honest work into the fascinating theater piece hiding within The Mar Vista.
The Mar Vista (December 1 – 18, 2016)
Mystical Feet Company
The Theaterat the 14th Street Y, 344 East 14th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 646-395-4310 or visit http://www.14streety.org/marvista
For more information, visit http://www.mysticalfeetcompany.org
Running time: two hours including one intermission