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Fondly, Collette Richland

New York Theatre Workshop
79 E. 4th St., New York, NY 10003 40.726428 -73.989941
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Advance Tickets Recommended


John Collins

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6 at Astor Pl.; F at Second Ave.; N, R at 8th St.-NYU; B, D, F, M at Broadway-Lafayette St.

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The credits for Fondly, Collette Richland, a new play at New York Theater Workshop, indicate that it is by Sibyl Kempson yet also created (and performed) by Elevator Repair Service. That’s an odd distinction; perhaps they wanted to spread the blame around. Both Kempson and the ERS collective are respected figures on the Off–Off Broadway scene; ERS is responsible for the unlikely hit Gatz, basically a staged reading of The Great Gatsby. But what they have made together here gives surrealism, already the last refuge of scoundrels, an even worse name. And that’s saying a lot in a play whose characters include Mabrel Fitzhubert, Joan Ham Hobhouse, Father Mumbles, Local Representative Wheatsun, the Krampus, the Cat Butler, and the Face of the Ghost of Jesus Christ.

It’s bad enough that Fondly, Collette Richardson is so aggressively nonsensical. All I can really pick out of the wreckage of weird idiolects and jarring non sequiturs is the faintest of story lines and a vaguely possible theme. The former involves a dreary couple — the Fitzhuberts — in whose home is a secret passageway that leads to an Alpine lodge. There they encounter monsters that seem to pose an existential threat. The theme might be the urgency of awakening human consciousness to the never-ending struggle for the soul of the world. Or it might be the desperation of people (especially writers) for whom reality proves too difficult. Either way, it is clearly not the authors’ intention that we come away from the play with a specific sense of what happened; they do everything they can to wave us away, as if from the scene of an accident.

At that, they are successful. On the night I attended, about a third of the audience left during the intermission, which finally arrived after nearly two hours. I have to believe that those who remained did so mostly out of politeness, believing that anyone with a vision so specifically bizarre must mean something important by it. I’m not convinced. Even if I were, I’d have left if I could, because worse than the nonsense — a lazy Susan of surrealistic clichés — is the aggression and insularity behind it. Rarely have I seen a play so eager to baffle and thus exclude anyone who might attempt to engage it. Perhaps that’s the point: that connection, a core value of traditional drama, is a dead end. (Early on, Mabrel Fitzhubert says, or rather shouts, “We will prefer to have no dramatic action this evening!”) Is the actors’ exhaustively ironic delivery of the dialogue meant to indicate a secret knowledge of its meaninglessness? That might be a provocative observation to make about humans if you weren’t boring 200 of them to death in the process. 

Make that 133.


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