Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Review: Slices of Intense Feeling

By Ed Malin

At the Brick Theater, The Festival of Lies continues from June 5 through July 5.
I saw Sweet Little Lies, which, as its title implies, is a thought-provoking program of short plays by talented regular artists at the theater.
Up first is Ruth: An Apology, written and performed by Bob Laine, directed by Maryanne Olson.  This is a moving solo piece about a man’s relationship with his mother—who has some of the supportive characteristics of the Biblical Ruth—as well as a woman named Ruth whom he dates during high school.  The young man liked boys more than girls, which, over time, turned out to be not just a phase but his identity.  Ruth was a year older, and wanted to be with him, and took on his interests, but this wasn’t the recipe for a healthy relationship.  From “Bartholemew and the Oobleck” to Billy Joel to the Atari game Pitfall and things you can do with a joystick, Bob Laine takes you down memory lane.
The second piece is The Three by Erin Bregman, directed by Maryanne Olson, with music by John Glover.  Ariana (Silvia Dionicio) sits at the center of a triangle of clicking metronomes.  Three observers (Jessica Marza, Clara Francesca and Roger Nasser) echo and critique in unison every word Ariana says. As the sound builds to a fever pitch, Ariana yells that it doesn’t matter, to which the replies is yes it does. Eventually, the three other voices cut out and Ariana can collect herself. For me, this is a piece about the oppressive nature of time.
The third piece is I Do Not See You by Richard Lovejoy, directed by Paige Blansfield. The Target (Morgan Zipf-Meister) tells us about how, as she ages, she believes that people actively try not to see her, except when they are looking for someone to blame. Perhaps it is true that babies get the most attention and it’s all downhill from there. In any case, she claims that a museum guard damaged an artwork and blamed her, which is why she went and broke something else in the museum.  If you’re going to get blamed, you might as well have done something, her logic goes. The other characters (Linus Gelber, C.L. Weatherstone and Daryl Lathon) loudly assail her for other minor things, like accidental littering. Finally, she is framed and carried off and beaten by two of the others, while the third tries to get some attention for himself.  He is ignored, and has to face the beaten woman in the end. Wouldn’t it be better for people to treat each other as equals?
The fourth piece is I [heart] Facts, written and performed by Alexis Sottile. The host of our presentation works as a fact checker for various publications. This important job is revealed to be a funny mixture of invention and harassment. We wouldn’t want the things we read to be inaccurate, would we? A few years ago, monologist Mike Daisey garnered some attention for his show about oppressive conditions in Chinese factories; at the same time, there was controversy about how much of the story was interview-based and/or fact-checked. Alexis’s adventures give some hope in a world where elected officials stray from the facts.
photo by The Brick
The fifth piece is Foxing by Greg Romero, directed by Maryanne Olson.
Beatrice  (Silvia Dionicio) is a bit of a personal trainer, complete with a whistle and furry animal ears.  Aaron (Linus Gelber) and Charlie (Bob Laine), two men not dressed for the gym, are put through a variety of aerobic exercises to dance music. Thus warmed up, they then sit and have a conversation, with the help of note cards which Beatrice hands out.  They apparently know each other, and raised a son who died.  It is so hard for them to talk to each other and find any kind of resolution that they try the exercise again until they can brave it all and go unscripted. Don’t knock drama therapy; it works!
The sixth piece is Level III by Erin Bregman, directed by Paige Blansfield
Anna (Morgan Zipf-Meister) and Lea (Anna Ty Bergman) are talking about their views of mirrors. Using stylized language, they explore some fears of the sun bouncing off a mirror and setting the house on fire. What is the difference between reflected and refracted? What do you call a lot of cracked pieces of glass? Versailles? Together, they are able to find their way to some very empowering resolutions.
The seventh piece is Hunkerpuss: The New Adventures, with words and sound by Chris Chappell, directed by Jesse Edward Rosbrow. Late at night, Polly (Rocio Mendez) is discovered watching those cartoons starring Hunkerpuss (Timothy McCown Reynolds), the cat who can never seem to stop chasing the lovely otter, Olivia Otterford (Clara Francesca). These cartoons combine several cute and awkward old cartoon characters such as Snagglepuss from Hanna-Barbera. Polly’s girlfriend Clare (Lex Friedman) joins her and offers a mixture of empathy for what is keeping Polly up and confusion about the appeal of an arguably sexist cartoon. As the two talk on the sofa, their roommate Brandon (V. Orion Delwaterman) appears from behind the sofa to offer his chock-full-of-semiotics perspective. On the other side of the stage, the adorable, lisping Hunkerpuss is seen reminiscing about the making of the classic cartoon. Eventually, not unlike some kids commercial, Hunkerpuss creates an energy portal to Polly, Clare and Brandon’s apartment. When the young fans (these appear to be the children of today, who are having this discussion 10 or 20 years from now) interrogate Hunkerpuss, he tells a fantastic story about his life as a cat, a very rich cat who could have invested in a progressive new Artificial Intelligence project but did not.  When Hunkerpuss died, he found himself alive again inside of the virtual world of the cartoon—which is controlled by the A.I.—continually forced to chase an otter. He moans that he doesn’t have a choice about such base desires. As technology permeates our world, are the animalistic traits of humanity refined away, or are they used against us?  It's a super-dramatic, finely-crafted and hilarious tale.
This show was delightful and ambitious.  Short plays, like cartoons (especially the one which mixes the two together) are magical sparkplugs which can launch a debate about human nature. Kudos to the versatile ensemble which brought to life so many interesting characters, and to the directors, some of whom worked on two or three plays of vastly different styles. Morgan Zipf-Meister’s lighting provides the intimacy that these works require.