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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Aurora Theatre’s Tranced is mesmerizing

click to enlarge EYES WIDE SHUT: Dr. Phillip Malaad (Maurice Ralston, left) with trance patient Azmera (Naima Carter Russell)
  • EYES WIDE SHUT: Dr. Phillip Malaad (Maurice Ralston, left) with trance patient Azmera (Naima Carter Russell)

In an old "Saturday Night Live" fake commercial, Jon Lovitz played a hypnotist called "The Amazing Alexander," whose audiences and critics alike intoned the testimonial, "I loved it! It was much better than Cats! I'm going to see it again and again!"

Just because I loved Aurora Theatre's hypnotism play Tranced – and, indeed, found it much better than Cats – don't assume that some mesmerist put the whammy on me. The Lawrenceville playhouse probably has never produced such a fresh, complex script as Tranced's regional premiere. It's the kind of provocative new work usually staged at Horizon Theatre or the Alliance Hertz Stage. Tranced's intertwined dynamics of hypnotherapy, journalism and geo-politics run the risk of alienating the theater's audience, who's accustomed to more old-fashioned musicals, comedies and whodunits. Creatively, at least, Tranced delivers spellbinding results for Aurora.

"You can see a lingering trace of everywhere if you stare long enough in my face," announces Dr. Phillip Malaad (Maurice Ralston), a lauded hypnotherapist, whose polyglot upbringing hints at the play's global scope. Despite his international background, he considers his modest Washington, D.C., office home. Phillip receives a new patient, Azmera (Naima Carter Russell), a proud African graduate student who suffers from panic attacks that interfere with her studies. Phillip's trancing techniques tap into suppressed memories from Azmera's (fictional) home country of Guyamba, where she witnessed horrors she doesn't consciously recall.

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(Photo courtesy Aurora Theatre)

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