Wednesday, March 29, 2006

From The Cheap Seats - Fragment

Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper's Fragment - 3/26/06 performance

I hope that From The Cheap Seats will become a regular feature of my portion of the blog - I decided to take the name from my previous review. Choosing to review the show from the back of the theater will hopefully give my work something to differentiate it from the herd. In the upcoming month I will be rehearsing a show and so may not have time to see much, and what I do see will be very much of my own choosing, thank you - again, this is as much due to lack of resources as perversity. I generally pick what to see, like many people, based on 1) who's in it, or 2) what others say about it.

In this instance, I saw Fragment because I've been familiar with Mr. Liska's work for a long time, and have seen much of what he's done since moving to New York. Of his past work, I can say that is never traditional, often grotesque, usually funny in surprising ways, and almost never dull. Almost. Sometimes, though, it just is... I like to believe this is the price of the kind of experimentation Mr. Liska is engaging in, and if you stick with it, the piece will reward you for being attentive.

Fragment is a collaboration between Mr. Liska and his wife Kelly Copper, also an artist of many talents (she's a photographer as well as a writer). It a text cobbled together from, according to the press release, over 5,000 fragments of plays by Euripides and Sophocles. It reminded me of Thomasina's lines inTom Stoppard's Arcadia, lamenting the loss of these works when the great library of Alexandria burned.

The play is staged in an area rather like a coliseum: the audience is seated on risers on both sides of the long, narrow stage. The lights are kept on through most of the show, and the actors (Zachary Oberzan, Tony Torn and Juliana Francis) enter with the audience. It's pretty subtle unless you know what to look for - I recognized one of them right away, and then kept an eye out for the other two, pretty sure I would be able to spot them. I was. Mr. Liska's used this method before.

Aside from a few chairs, the set consists of two tables, holding a little food and a lot of wine, looking like the remains of a business conference buffet. The actors are dressed in businesswear that suggests the same. The general atmosphere of the piece is that of an office party or post-conference bacchanal winding down - most everyone has left, and the few remaing participants are getting maudlin and sentimental, and horny.

The simplicity of the setting makes it a wonderful showcase for the actors and the text. Torn and Oberzan were lovely, natural and funny. Even from the way back, I could catch everything they were doing, and they interacted with the audience a great deal, particularly Torn, who would stare directly at a laughing patron until he stopped - which would make everyone else laugh. Francis's style was so different - much more presentational and hard - that it makes it difficult for me to judge. I found it grating compared to the other two, but the character was also clearly meant to be carrying around huge amounts of anger and sadness.

And the text - interesting, some of it quite beautiful. It was fun to realize that it had been patched together to create coherent conversations. Truthfully, though, the coherency would only last over a few pages; but it could not sustain over the course of the whole piece. Instead, a sort of pattern emerged, where the characters would be horny for a bit, then thoughtful for a bit, then angry for a bit, then sad for a bit. Lather, rinse repeat. Of course, this is the pattern of life, and of conversation; but in a play there is usually a plot creating a larger structure, instead of just ABBA C ABC CAB over the course of ninety minutes. My thoughts gradually moved from, "I can't wait to see where this is going," to "Where is this going??" Something about it reminded me of Godspell, of all things, probably because many of the fragments began with phrases like "A wise man says..." The play allows you to appreciate the beauty and relevance of the pieces, but I'm not convinced it creates a coherent whole.

Also frustrating: the coliseum-staging which seemed so appropriate at first. Often the actors' backs were to me, and I was unable to hear what they were saying. This was, er, new old stuff, and I was anxious to catch every word. Also, I found the reactions of the people sitting in the audience distracting, though certainly hilarious. I counted at least 4 people asleep, 2 profoundly itchy people, one guy attempting to contort himself into a Picasso shape in his chair, and one woman who simply could not handle it when the Torn character dropped his pants and lounged on a table a few mere feet away from her face. I was really there to discover something new, though, and relying on the other audience members to keep the piece interesting seemed wrong to me.

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posted by Addy @ 3/29/2006 01:51:00 PM |


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