Stage Raw: Comedies About the End of the World
Wroclaw, Poland -- If you're looking for an incubator of new forms as a measure of what really matters in the theater, Poland is where it's at, and has been for some time. Even in the midst of an economic crisis, Wroclaw is throwing a great international theater festival this month (Dialog - Wroclaw, curated by Krystyna Meissner, of Theatre Wrolczesny). It's the second such festival in this mid-size city in six months. (In June, The World As a Place of Truth Festival, curated and administered by the Grotowski Institute, was yet another big party of great performances.) Once more, a slew of critics from Russia, Britain and the U.S. has flown in to see the likes of Buchner's Woyceck (Handspring Puppet Company, Johannesburg, South Africa), literally animated by puppets and by director William Kentridge's black-and-white film of backdrop settings, unfolding as child-like drawings as though from Monty Python's Flying Circus.
Last night, I saw a fantastic one-man show, Looking for a Missing Employee, from Beirut, Lebanon, that a few people walked out on. One of the walkouts was a Moscow journalist I'd met a few days earlier. Haven't seen her since, but I suspect the cause of the offense was the play's assault on our ability to know anything in general, and on our reliance on newspapers in particular. (When I speak to her again - I've got her card but no telephone here -- I'll let you know if my theory holds)
Rabih Mroue, a slender standup comedian, performed in quite good English a show about his fetishistic concern with missing persons. His style was very easy-going, and there's no way on Earth he was going to get all pious on us about this terrible issue. His approach was more like a cross between Franz Kafka and a Lebanese version of Jon Stewart.
He stood at a podium in the back of the theater, while we saw his televised face on a large screen - which is the smart theatrical conceit about how we receive information (and misinformation) through mass media. There were two smaller screens on either side of the main screen: One showed his fingers rifling through albums of newspaper clippings he had so fastidiously glued onto the album's pages; the other showed hand-drawn diagrams following the plight of one man who disappeared from the Lebanese Ministry of Finance while walking home. Mroue tracks the newspaper accounts, article by article, and the facts start wobbling like drunks staggering out of a bar at 2 a.m.
On the day the subject disappeared, $3 billion (Lebanese dollars) was found missing from the Ministry, the first article reports. In the next article the amount stolen as shot up to $40 billion. Next, his car is discovered with money in the trunk, while his forlorn wife pleads in the next article that her husband is/was not a thief. Next thing, she's been arrested for conspiracy. An article or two later, the missing amount is down to $10 billion. There's a sub-plot about fraudulent stamps in the city. It goes nowhere, which is part of the delight. Co-conspirators get introduced and not a speck of information is reliable, despite the continual reference to "trusted sources."
Least reliable of all is our narrator, who, in order to dramatize several days of no new articles, takes a three minute break during which we all listen to Chopin. (That's when a few in the audience walked out; it's particularly rude to walk out on Chopin in Poland.) Later, depicting with faux suspense a frenzy of misinformation, he apologizes for losing his place, and for having accidentally glued one crucial article face down into his album. By the time he discovered his mistake, he pried the article from the page, he explains. All that's left (which we see on screen) is distorted half-sentences on tattered strips of paper, indecipherable in dried glue.
Aside from its generalized surrealism, the piece offers a cautionary tale for relying on media that, for too many reasons to enumerate here, have such a sketchy relationship to the truth.
Check back here Monday afternoon for the latest NEW THEATER REVIEWS of Stacy Sims' As White as O, at Road Theatre Company; Cirque du Soleil's Kooza at the Santa Monica Pier; the world premiere of Ruth McKee's Stray, presented by Chalk Rep and the Black Dahlia Theatre, which is also the venue; Seaglass Theatre's production of David Lindsay-Abaire's Wonder of the World at the Victory Theatre; From the Ground Up's production of American Grind, co-written by E. Yarber, Tracy Lane and Cheri Anne Johnson; Scott Martin's new musical, Children of the Night, presented by the Katselas Theatre Company a the Beverly Hills Playhouse; Steven Dietz's Private Eyes at the Raven Playhouse; and Lee Blessing's Chesapeake, presented by Syzygy Theatre Group at GTC Burbank.
ED ASNER ON KPFK
Ed Asner is performing in the world premiere broadcast of a radio play, It's Up to Us Alone, a domestic drama swirling around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Friday, Oct. 16, 5 p.m. on KPFK, 90.7 F.M.