Foul Play

What a week this was! hardly had i recovered from Tenderloin, the only Encores! revival I found almost wholly without merit, before I was buffeted, worse than from pillar to post, from one dog to another.

My first traumatic experience was with The Hologram Theory, by Jessica Goldberg, whose previous offering, Refuge, was not without interest. Here, however, she tries to re-create the world of some New York club kids who in 1996 killed and dismembered a fellow clubber, Angel Melendez. These drugged-out youths – three guys and a girl, one more garish than the next – are either as jarringly subhuman as Goldberg represents them, in which case they are not worthy of a play, only of a police report, or a little more complex than the destructive and self-destructive creeps portrayed, in which case the author has failed both them and us.

Further characters are a dreary female journalist (the whiny Kelly Overbey); the dead and dismembered man (Michael Alexis Palmer, saddled with a silly role); his twin sister, who comes from Trinidad to look for him after he appears to her in a dream (Joie Susannah Lee, in a rote performance that cannot even maintain the right accent); the cop she gets involved with, who investigates the case (Corey Stoll, of whom I saw too little); his shrill fiancée (Jennifer Rau, shrill indeed); and a fatuous filmmaker (dully played by Bill Torres) who seduces the woman journalist with his hologram theory, whereby, as in a hologram every piece contains the whole, so we are all part of one another. Whatever may be true of holograms, in a play like this I am – and want – no part of anybody or anything.

After suffering through an hour of bad writing, dubious acting, and poor directing (by Ruben Palendo), I ran for dear life and my sanity. I can’t fathom how the Blue Light Theater Company, which put on such a fine play as The Clearing in the very same space, could stoop as low as The Hologram Theory. Perhaps because the Times trampled on the former, it was assumed that its ignoble antithesis might please. And indeed, it got a mixed review, in which Bruce Weber wrote that these murderous punkers are “impossible to understand if you are not one of them,” and followed this up with a good deal of understanding.

Next came What You Get and What You Expect, by Jean-Marie Besset, a transplanted French playwright “widely produced in Europe” whose works I do not know but whom I found intelligent when I met him. The play, however, left me cold, baffled, and totally uninvolved.

It concerns two rival architects competing to erect the first monument on the moon (is the point that we don’t need monuments there?): the likable Derrien and the arrogant Lebret. Derrien has a seemingly loving wife, Nathalie, who nevertheless hops into bed with the callow and seemingly gay Brit Neil Abbot, roommate of Pericles Feyder, the European delegate to the monument committee (is it to promote her husband’s cause?). Derrien meets up with said Feyder (why does a French architectural competition in Paris need a European delegate?), with whom he had a passionate schoolboy affair, and with whom he again hops into bed – well, actually onto a desktop (it does not seem to be a mere political maneuver).

Hovering over everything is Louise Erkanter, high government functionary and head of the architectural committee, a combination Machiavelli and Messalina, whom we see getting out of bed – actually a waiting-room sofa – with the loathsome Lebret, which on his part may be partly a promotional move, but on hers is barely even sexual. Though the implication seems to be that Louise favors her sex partners, the competition is won by another architect in distant Marseilles, who just hanged himself. That Lebret’s and Derrien’s submissions were near-identical indicates plagiarism, but just how and by whom remains murky.

There is more than this to What You Get, though I didn’t get the half of it. Does it mean that in politics everyone screws everyone else, both literally and figuratively? Or is there some elaborate symbolism, whereby Nick is Britain screwing half of France, just as Feyder, symbolizing the European Union, screws the other half? Or is this thing even more arcane, beyond an old-fashioned reviewer with the atavistic notion that plays ought to have apprehensible meanings? What is sure is that Christopher Ashley has directed some usually decent actors into overacting ferociously.

Finally, the new group’s Betwixt, by David Cale. That group and its artistic director, Scott Elliott, once did good work but have lately, perhaps partly out of financial constraints, gone in for inane one- or two-character ramblings, of which this is the most egregious example. A man and a woman, mostly seated but sometimes standing, deliver monologues – or, more rarely, dialogues – into microphones. These, when meant to be funny, are ineffably flat-footed; when meant to be serious, simply embarrassing.

The stuff concerns Brits mostly in America (both Cale and his co-performer, Cara – formerly Caroline – Seymour, are transplanted Britishers), though sometimes also back in England. On two continents, they incontinently spout platitudes, nonsense, tall tales, or pseudopoetic fantasies. When they deal with specifics, they are largely about aborted hetero- or homosexual endeavors, about unexpected careers in soap operas or telephone sex, or about creatures from the sea, possibly dolphins, making love to humans. Especially trying are the woman’s involvement with three men named Martin, and David Cale’s occasional renditions of pop songs to show off his nonexistent singing talent.

Both Cale and Miss Seymour have been seen to better advantage in previous New Group offerings; but no amount of effort can coax life out of this inert matter. Jonathan Kreisberg introduces and accompanies Betwixt with his undistinguished guitar music, made worse by being amplified. Curiously, it took two (Scott Elliott and Andy Goldberg) to direct this non-play, and two others (Zaniz Jakubowski and Kevin Price) to provide the minimalist, almost virtual scenery.

At one point, one of the speakers declares, “We sat there for two hours with next to nothing to say.” Betwixt lasts only one and a half (unendurable) hours, and has less than nothing to say: What you lose in duration, you gain in emptiness.

Foul Play