Monday, June 19, 2017

Review: If Loving You Is Wrong, I Don't Wanna Be Right

By Ed Malin

Gideon Productions presents God of Obsidian by Mac Rogers as part This Is Not Normal: An Arts and Activism Festival at The Brick Theater.  The play stars Mac Rogers and Rebecca Comtois and is directed by Jordana Williams.  The long-time collaborators have just taken the show to the Cincinnati Fringe Festival and are back for a few possibly sold-out performances in NYC.
Have you ever heard the mystical Jewish saying “The whole world is a very narrow bridge”?  You will see a narrow bridge onstage here.   It makes up most of the set, which is designed by Sandy Yaklin.  The bridge happens to come between the rest of the world and the snug house owned by Nathan (Rogers), to which he is bringing Alice (Comtois) as our story opens.  Some people have f@ck!ng lawns, which they have to mow, but Nathan has this interesting bridge over a chasm.  Nathan is a striking dude, who might be the proverbial “most interesting man in the world” if he spent a lot of time in the outside world.  His house is his castle, and he is a little protective, like Bluebeard, but he is not that kind of tyrant.  He and Alice are beginning a romance.  He wants to protect her.  He tells her he has just gotten a big chunk of capital, which he wants to share with Alice in honor of her birthday.  Would Alice consider quitting her job and taking six months or a year to just take care of herself?  It sounds like a sweet deal.  He even couches the luxury of this request in terms that Alice may indeed come to believe prove that they thought of this plan together. Have you ever heard of gaslighting?  No, it’s not some ancient theatrical technique.  There’s someone in the White House who does it a lot.  Gaslighting is when one talks to people in a way that makes them doubt their sanity and the truth of their recollections.  A manipulative man might then move on to persuade such people that only he has the truth, the plan, the power that will make everything all right.
photo courtesy of The Brick
When she moved in with Nathan, Alice was telling him about her friends, who just started a relationship and left her as a third wheel.  Alice would still like to see her friends, and to bring Nathan along.  Nathan subtly posits, as he did when talking about Alice’s former career, that some people just want to waste your time, but, if you say no to them and yes to yourself, you can take your life back.  Nathan is neutral or smiling when he says such things, so why does Alice look so sick?  Why is she trembling?  Is she really incapable of crossing the bridge to go shopping?  Nathan even convinces her that it’s more efficient to order clothes and send them back until you find the right size than to venture out to a store.
If you have encountered Mac Rogers the stage and podcast writer, you may be surprised at his smooth-talking acting skills.  Rebecca Comtois has played a number of heroines opposite Mac Rogers and in Gideon plays in general, but not like this.  The power play within the play is at first undetectable, then becomes the basis of an agonizingly good cautionary tale, nicely darkened by Morgan Zipf-Meister's lighting design, Jordana Williams shows yet again that she can bring such characters to a state of crisis in less than an hour if needed.   On the way home, I looked over my shoulder to make sure my surveillance-minded ex-girlfriend from Hades wasn’t shadowing me.
In the program notes, the playwright explains the title as a reference to the Aztec god Tezcatlipoca – the god of night winds, discord and obsidian – who entrapped a great crocodile called Cipacti and distorted her body to make the land he walked on.  The play will probably make you feel a lot of anguish, or bring up bad memories, or make you want to help people you know are being manipulated.  There is also the implication that media manipulation (during our usual sadistic general elections and now, under the current sh!thead of state) is as bad as it is pervasive.
Just for some closure, the full mystical quote from Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810) is “The whole world is a very narrow bridge.  The important thing is not to be afraid at all.”  It may be tempting to let someone else rule your life.  It may feel like a security blanket, or a strait jacket.
Alice’s ultimate response to Nathan is so brilliant, so strong and yet so broken, so logically sound and so rich in technology and other things that bullies try to take away from the masses.  It is clear to me why this play was acclaimed at the Cincinnati Fringe and offered an encore performance there.  Interestingly, the cast declined as they had to escape back to NYC to perform at the Brick.  I wonder if a bridge was involved.