Suggestion is at the core of poetry; A poem is often as effective for the things it leaves out as the things it leaves in.
"Home to Center," AXIS Theatre's debut production in the Baltimore Playwrights Festival, includes references to Wordsworth's "Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood," and a verse from the poem is quoted in the program.
But unlike poetry, this play, by Kimberley Lynne, leaves too much in. A more disturbing problem is that, to paraphrase a line from another poet, the center of "Home to Center" cannot hold.
Specifically, the play's premise concerns the supposedly forbidden love between second cousins. Never mind that it's legal for second cousins to marry in this state, and probably in a slew of others. In "Home to Center" the relationship between the cousins is described as incestuous, and it ruins a political career as well as the lives of its main characters, Sally and Michael.
This flaw is regrettable not only because Lynne's entry in last year's festival, "Brief Candle," proved her to be an adept playwright, but also because this latest script deals with compelling themes that would have far more validity if they were served by a solid plot.
Chief among these are the seemingly contrasting themes of obsessive love and love that refuses to make the leap to commitment. The "leap" metaphor is spelled out in an early scene in which Sally and Michael stand on the edge of a cliff, convinced they see an imaginary bridge that will carry them across a lake.
Sally and Michael are only 5 years old at the time, but this incident is mentioned repeatedly. And there are loads of opportunities to mention it since the play's 17 scenes chronicle their relationship over more than eight decades, during which he becomes a senator, she becomes a playwright, they marry other people, have children and eventually end up in nursing homes -- he with a sick spirit, she with a sick body.
Between scenes we hear the recorded voices of the characters, frequently reading letters. Together with the fact that the plot is about a lifelong love affair, it's a device that is reminiscent of A. R. Gurney's "Love Letters," which, coincidentally, is currently running at Towson State University's Maryland Arts Festival.
In the lead roles, Paul Anthony Sapp and particularly Melissa Meyd do a fine job with the difficult task of portraying characters who age from 5 years to 87. And Meyd makes the strength of Sally's love unmistakable; even when she rages at Michael, the love underlying her rage is apparent.
Most of the supporting characters are two-dimensional -- a fault that seems to lie in the writing, not in the performances or Richard Jackson's direction. And though the recorded voices fill in some of the spaces between scenes, the overall structure lacks fluidity -- another characteristic of poetry that Lynne would have done well to emulate.
Mostly, however, "Home to Center" suffers from the hole in its center. Fear of commitment and thwarted love can definitely destroy lives. But the danger, indeed the scandal, of a romance between second cousins is hardly the stuff of which tragedy is made.
It's indicative of how far off this is that a photograph of the cousins kissing at age 2 is presumably the straw that ends Michael's career. Even the National Enquirer would probably pass on that one.
'Home to Center'
Where: AXIS Theatre, 3600 Clipper Mill Road
When: Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m., July 11 at 7 p.m. Through July 18
Tickets: $8 and $9
Call: (410) 243-5237