In ‘Aipotu,’ utopia goes awry at EgoPo Classic Theater

Ed Swidey (foreground) and Charlie DelMarcelle in EgoPo Classic Theater's production of

Ed Swidey (foreground) and Charlie DelMarcelle in EgoPo Classic Theater's production of "Aipotu." (Dave Sarrafian)

The title of the play “Aipotu” is utopia spelled backwards — the very direction the play’s utopia is headed. Four people who carried their ideals to a commune they created on Nantucket are finding that living in a bubble goes only so far. Bubbles burst.

“Aipotu” is the second play of a work by John Guare called the “Lydie Breeze Trilogy,” named for the spirited character central to the plays. The two works produced so far by EgoPo Classic Theater display a rough elegance in Guare’s plotting and Lane Savadove’s staging, with a topsy-turvy epic quality that spans decades in the lives of its characters and the evolution of the nation. Once you get into them, you’re fully involved.

If you didn’t see the first of the three – “Cold Harbor,” presented last month – you won’t be flummoxed by Part Two. Just after “Aipotu” begins, one of its characters tells us what’s happened so far by recalling events, as a way of framing an argument he’s trying to make. Lydie Breeze (played by Melanie Julian), a nurse who treated wounded soldiers on a Virginia battlefield during the Civil War, has by chance hooked up with three men: a photographer (Charlie DelMarcelle) documenting the war for a Quaker group, his helper (Ed Swidey), and the chief of supplies on a ship (David Girard).

Each has different goals as they set out together after the war. But those goals begin to coalesce: They will live exemplary lives in intellectual pursuit on Nantucket, where Breeze has inherited family property. In “Aipotu,” we find them there in 1871 – seven years after the first play. Breeze and the photographer — now a former photographer — are married and have an infant girl. The photographer’s former assistant feels like a third wheel – he watches after the baby, does daily chores, and wants to move on in life. The ship’s supply chief has already taken his leave to work on the nation’s latest thrust into the future, the railroads.

His unannounced return upsets the communal dynamic that the other three have uncomfortably created. Things become more complicated – money and sex can do that – and that’s all I’ll write about the plot of “Aipotu,” which is the name of the commune.

The act of writing figures here as much as it did in the first play, when Breeze took constant notes like a journalist on a story — her own story, and that of a nation at war with itself. Now her husband has turned to writing, not so successfully, both in the first half of “Aipotu,” set on a  Nantucket beach (you can almost smell the ocean in Markéta Fantová’s seashore design) and in its second.

EgoPo stages Part Three next month with the same excellent cast (assisted in “Aipotu” by five musicians playing incidental music) and after that, you can see the entire trilogy in three-day marathons or in one-day industrial-strength marathons.

Guare, whose “Six Degrees of Separation” had a snappy Broadway revival last season and who wrote the screenplay for “Atlantic City,” has never seen the three plays produced at once – EgoPo is the first theater company to do so. Guare, now 80, wrote the three plays in the early ‘80s and has retooled the second and third to work more neatly as parts of a single work. So far, a single work — a story with depth and vibrant color — is precisely how this trilogy feels.

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“Aipotu,” produced by Ego Po Classic Theater, runs through March 18 in the theater on the top floor of Christ Church Neighborhood House, 20 N. American St., to the side of Christ Church at Second and Market Streets egopo.org.

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