Saturday, September 19, 2015

Review: Love and Poetry and Voyeurism

We all love love. And the things we do for love. But sometimes we get a little too deep into making love happen. Some call it perversion. The voyeuristic lens is brought to light in the William Blake inspired There Is a Happiness That Morning Is by Mickle Maher and Theater Oobleck.
The play begins seemingly innocently with dual Blake-centric classes taught by radically different professors. Bernard is a free love hippy man child while Ellen is a reserved and less than content mature woman. Both individuals have radically different interpretations of Blake's text. When it's revealed that on the eve of the final class, the duo engaged in public sex, they are forced to publicly acknowledge their wrongdoing. Only Ellen does not wish to. When the play intersects the two plots with Ellen and Bernard sharing the podium, truths are revealed but it’s when the ominous Dean James, the source of the forced public apology, things get funky. James emerges from the audience to reveal that not only has he been present in their love story for twenty years, he takes a sick pleasure in their romance. And that's when Maher seems to lose the audience. And the play. Prior to this moment, There Is A Happiness That Morning Is highlights Maher’s poetic language and love for Blake. It showcases the beauty and intrigue of love. But the absurd turn breaks the play wide open and into a whole new world. Until this point, the professors primarily taught in rhyme. It's an interesting character and writing choice. When James enters the picture, the poetry is gone. It proves the power of love and words to these people. Regardless of the effect, the bizarre new plot throws the journey so off-kilter it is quite hard to recover.
With some verse naturally written into the script, how the dialogue was approached was drastically different and sorely noticeable. Diana Slickman used the rhymes as Ellen. You heard her almost reach for the rhyme. On the other hand, Colm O’Reilly as Bernard allowed the dialogue to come naturally. It made Maher's language almost feel like Shakespeare. With a play almost entirely filled with monologues, the only character to play off of was the audience. Again, the approaches were different. O’Reilly had a natural bond to the audience playing the role of "class". Slickman was very stiff and looked for acceptance from the students. As James, Kirk Anderson brought perversion to a new level. You believed Slickman's reason for wanting this love to strive, no matter how messed up it was.
Part of the journey of Theater Oobleck is working without a director. It provided a very interesting presentation. The voyeuristic nature of the piece was present but key cohesiveness was not. There just seemed something missing to bring the piece together. The production and lighting design by Martha Bayne was simple. The play was set in the dilapidated classroom of the university. The stage was covered in a gross green carpet with an overly used blackboard flanked by old school podiums. Aside from the very opening look during preshow with a gobo making the appearance of the shadow from the tree, the lighting primarily stayed the same. Less is more allowed for the words to take over.
There Is a Happiness That Morning Is truly is two different stories brought together. The first was about language and the second was about love. Thematically they are tied but once the plot gets weird, it felt the begging was all for naught.