Thursday, October 18, 2007

PLAY: "Me, Myself, I and the Others"

Remember the old commercials with the egg frying in the pan? You know, this is your brain on drugs? Well, that brain has nothing on the Seussian fantasy Wreckio Ensemble has cooked up in Me, Myself, I, and the Others, a madcap physical comedy written and co-directed by Dechelle Damlen. (She is joined by Kimberlea Kressal, who is excellent at directing such highly stylized pieces.) The mind is an asylum, populated by its own Looney Tune-like manifestations; the result is something like an old time circus freakshow. Entertaining, but you can't live in a concept, no matter how brilliant or well-executed.

I love Jian Jung's impressive Wonka-meets-Star Trek laboratory and Oana Botez-Ban's dysfunctional costuming (white coats meet colored tights, garters, and green medical gloves). But what works aesthetically only exacerbates what doesn't work emotionally. The show is dealing entirely in caricature, so there's no growth: in fact, there's very little drama. The expressionist absurdity sees to that, with conversations not just overlapping, but literally competing for attention. When the chaos coalesces, it all seems worthwhile, but Me, Myself, I, and the Others isn't sane: it wants to sustain the neuroses, not explain them.

Day Fantasist (Randi Berry) squeals about her hopes and dreams, then plunges into fright at her inadequacies; Random Haphazard (Benjamin Spradley) lurks by drawers filled with paper memories, cataloging our "hero's" thoughts; and Eye The Third (Karly Maurer) runs the show from a raised podium, like a DJ constantly scratching and remixing stray thoughts. Hangfire Rundwild (Santana Dempsy) is the wild child, clad in 80s spandex and a yellow boa styled into a punk lock of hair, and she jumps around stage with great enthusiasm for repeating the catchy choruses of songs ("You say hello, and I say goodbye"), and Really Mean (Anna Lamadrid) stands aloof, taking note of all the unsaid nasty thoughts like a legal stenographer. What little conflict there is in these disparate parts belongs mainly to Myself Workhorse (Paul James Bowen), who protests the unequal distribution of work, but his struggle for identity (or at least a job description) is artificial drama, as is the arrival of the real antagonist, Mr. Hang Back (Emily Firth).

The cast is so committed, they should be committed, and their endurance is at such a high level that the audience is at least kept on its toes. But these manifestations are set in their ways, and they have no inner selves, only a collective outer self with high tension, allergies, a violent craving for chocolate cake, and a need to sever ties with her old lover, none of which are truly satisfying perceptions to have. And because the play never fills us in, it only truly works when it remains eccentrically opaque. Perhaps Me, Myself, I and the Others would work better as a gallery installation -- something audiences could walk into, interact with, and then run from at the first yawn of boredom. As is, it's a pure experience that overstays its welcome.

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