When The Cuckoo Is Cuckold

"Kernel of Sanity" is a thinking person’s play and branches off into many scenarios. It is a played filled with symbolism and subtlety

[Entertainment: Theater]

Just when you feel mankind’s insanity will push all humanity over the precipice, enter a “Kernel of Sanity.”

Directed by Petronia Paley and written by Kermit Frazier, “Kernel of Sanity,” takes the audience down a twisty road to the New Federal Theatre, located at 466 Grand Street, in Manhattan, where the viewer witnesses the inner regions of the mind.

Well, at least until May 3rd.

As most tales often are, Kernel of Sanity is open to one’s own interpretation. Set in the 1970s, the character Rita Templeton identifies herself with the unhappy and tortured singer Janis Joplin and the character Roger Peterson internalizes within himself a ‘Quiet Storm’ and thus identifies with Smokey Robinson.

Unfortunately, the quiet storm within Peterson is raging and no longer easy to calm.

Joel Nagle plays Frank Tracy, lead man who suddenly finds himself sideman. At what point this turn of event came about eludes Tracy who returns to his mid-west family hearth, after a semi-successful career in California, where he so captures the dimensions of a character he portrays, its left a lasting impression on Roger Peterson (Chaz Reuben) who also played a tiny role.

So impressed was Roger by Frank’s acting, he visits Frank and Rita, (Madeline James), wherein he attempts to reconstruct the tatters of all 3 lives.

Pretending his confidence isn’t shaken, Frank immerses himself into the writing of a manuscript he hopes will once again reestablish his place in the world. His manuscript takes up his full attention and he barely notices Rita, who feels reduced to chief cook and bottle washer. Ignored, Rita craves attention and feels the need to compete in a way that will guarantee Frank’s undivided attention. She pulls an acting stunt that momentarily distracts Frank from his deep devotion to self. A misfit in her small community, Rita gravitates toward Frank, who like herself, is clearly out of his element. It seems that Frank having reached his highest level of competence, now borders on incompetence as he desperately struggles to pen his way out of his slump.

Along comes Roger who seems to have made it. At least if his brand new car is any evidence. However, Rogers dodges questions masterfully causing mystery to surround his visit; although, it’s evident that Roger is stuck in the past, back in California, still latched onto “One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest,” the play wherein Frank was the star and Roger a bit player. Desperate for Frank’s acknowledgement and approval, Roger attempts to get Frank to reenact scenes from Cuckoos Nest.

Having retired to his own Cuckoos nest, Frank doesn’t want to revisit a play he knows exemplifies the last vestige of his success but Roger is insistent. Disappointed Frank is squandering his talent Peterson behaves as if Frank’s failure somehow sentences Roger to a career of invisibility. After all, if Frank, with all his power, fails — where does that leave Roger? Half cocked in his resolve, Peterson fires the bullets of his frustration at Frank, demanding to know why he’s denied the better roles when clearly he has the greater talent. When does he get his recognition and when is he allowed to venture beyond his invisible parameters? As Roger sees it, things come easy for Frank, and now Frank seems content to sit on his laurels unappreciative of the privileges that automatically come his way.

“Kernel of Sanity” is a thinking person’s play and branches off into many scenarios. It is a played filled with symbolism and subtlety. As I contemplated its meaning, I imagined Frank as representing white society. Having gained the position of power, failure could be optional because after all his pallor guaranteed him automatic reentry to the helm. Roger on the other hand, had to struggle to get his foot in the door and when he manages a foot hold, he has to accept whatever is handed to him until a greater power player deems to hand him the keys, and even then, his position remains tenuous.

Those who set the rules in society often play favorites, accepting the color ‘black’ as the winner only in the games of chance. Was Roger the better actor? Of course! After all, he and his people had accepted acting as a way of life in America. But now, Roger grew weary of the bit parts white society handed him, thus he sought to fire his gun straight into the heart of his marginalization. He’d chosen his time and now at the ruin of Frank’s career, he saw the possibility of gaining his self respect through seizing the power for himself especially since there an obvious weakness prevailed within Frank’s armor. It seemed Roger finally realized that all along he held the power, only the bit roles had distracted him from realizing he did.

Frank could no longer mask the fact his so-called power was always an illusion and only existed via his ability to hide his weaknesses and convince others of his sovereignty.

Exposing this game of cat and mouse and power play is the thread that weaves this production together. Each character must throw off their blinders and confront their illusions to see there is no reward for the last man standing because the last man standing stands alone.

If you are someone who loves puzzles and likes to tread into those deep places between self-delusion and illusion, the command of this psychological play will pull you in. It offers a lot to think about and even now, I continue to ponder its complexities.

Performances of Kernel of Sanity run Wednesdays through Friday evenings, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday performances are at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.

Sunday performances are at 3:00 p.m. For ticket information, call 212-598-044 or visit www.HenryStreet.org/Arts.

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