The old avant-garde was useful in its day as a breakthrough. But in today's glutinous permissiveness, what's left to break through? There remained unexplored realms for the genius of Beckett and the talent of Ionesco; but much of what is considered innovative nowadays is just a stale recycling of obsolete iconoclasm. Such is Melissa James Gibson's sic. It is about three twentysomethings in adjoining apartments, represented in phone-booth size and on casters, for greater, albeit gratuitous, mobility. Theo is a composer struggling to write the music for a theme-park thrill ride. Babette, who keeps warding off his advances, is a would-be writer at work on a book recording twentieth-century history in terms of the inapt outbursts of world leaders. Frank is a homosexual practicing tongue twisters in order to audition for auctioneers' school.
Their bumbling interaction could have been of comic interest were Gibson not seduced by the threadbare hand-me-downs of avant-gardism, some of which may have been tossed in by her director, Daniel Aukin. A fluorescent ring glares intermittently for no perspicuous reason. Characters speak in unison, repeat phrases obsessively, deliver lines supine on the floor, break up sentences illogically, or mumble sotto voce. Rather than enhancements, these are roadblocks to communication and empathy. Bizarre effects that might once have at least had shock value now elicit smug complacency or Pavlovian salivation at putative profundities.
The two-tier stage has an elaborate lower-level apartment that briefly lights up from time to time to reveal a married couple even more combative than the singles above them. On a mercifully invisible, still higher level, a saintly old woman, now defunct, lived nearer to heaven. It might help if the actors were more appealing than the oafish Richard Crawford (who has replaced Dominic Fumusa as Theo), the humdrum Christina Kirk as Babette, and James Urbaniak, who, as Frank, at least delivers his tongue twisters with gusto. Louisa Thompson's amusing décor bestows some unearned decorum on Miss Gibson's fatuous farrago.
By Melissa James Gibson, at Soho Rep.