Hollywood is fond of action adventure movies where a tuxedo-clad hero battles evil villains and thugs while defeating their own personal demon, whatever it may be. The stakes are high and the situation is a bit zany, but the thrill of the game is the draw. In Rafael Spregelburd's Spam, we watch an amnesia-ridden man in a tuxedo piece together a high stakes adventure on the island of Malta.
Told completely nonlinearly, Spam is a cyber Bond caper that is wild and weird and a little bit too long. What's ultimately a journey of self-discovery, Spam is a patchwork of a dance. Though pretentiously billed as a spoken opera, or “Sprechoper”, Spam is simply a dry dramedy that fancies itself as a multimedia language play. Written by Spregelburd and translated by Jean Graham-Jones, there was something enticing about the production as a whole but something drastically off. Whether it was lost in translation, the multi-media production lacked connection. Even with some forgivable technical flaws, Spam had a sense of uncertainty, standing on rocky shores. The conceit that Spregelburd brought to the stage was the idea that the presentation was random. The order of scenes was seemingly picked out of a hotel ice container. Whether director Samuel Buggeln intended it or not, moments between days were confusingly dropped, appearing as if determined actor Vin Knight truly wasn't clear what story came next. It was flawed in the sense that the middle ground didn't read. The clarity of uncertainty needed to find an extreme. Feeling as if you're viewing an actor struggle to find his place is wholly uncomfortable. With a patchwork of story, there seemed to be many plot points to consistently remember. Between the crude talking dolls to the money-laundering girl and mafia to Cassandra to the dead language thesis, there was a lot to keep track of. How the play fell out, there would be times each beat would bring new information or there would be incredibly long breaks that it was difficult to remember what came before. With 31 potential days of stories to recreate, it was inevitable to miss some important information. Data overload you could say. Spam is a modular text. No two performances will be the same. And in a way, it’s hard to say whether the text worked or not. Perhaps the flow of show we saw did not serve the story best. Maybe a different algorithm of days makes it better. But again, uncertainty hurt the production. There was a strong commentary on society and commercialism deep within, but it felt very specific to the point where it lacked gravitas. What may have been important to Spregelburd may not have resonated with the audience. But again, this could be do to clarity or translation.
At first glance, Spam appears to break the fourth wall, exposing the inner workings of the play. Samuel Buggeln’s set was part hotel room, part theatrics. And nothing is more terrifying then the eerie display of ptalking dolls. Once the play gained momentum, they blended into one another with the help of Jake DeGroot’s lights and Lianne Arnold’s projections. DeGroot did a tremendous job creating a colorscape that was intricate and interesting. Arnold’s projections played well off of the various design elements. While they did add a cool element to the show, the story could easily have been told without them. And perhaps it would have been less overwhelming. Director Buggeln tried to keep the play moving but it sadly wanted to be tighter. With all the moving parts, it was inevitable that was not going to happen, especially early in the run. With clarity being a theme of Spam, the tempo of text was rushed at times, likely to avoid running too long. But with an onslaught of information, much was lost.
To say the least, Spam is ambitious. Works of this nature can be hits or misses. Or right in between. And that’s where Spam is. No matter how long this production has been in the works, it was clear, more time was greatly desired.