When playing the crap shoot that is Bingo, the goal is to listen closely to the all the minute numbers called, jot them down on your game board, and hope that your numbers fit the winning pattern -- most frequently a straight line -- first. Aside from the fact that it's a crap shoot, I'm not sure what the point is of Adam Rapp's new play Bingo With the Indians. There are lots of details -- intimate ones, even -- and a ton of curses, but they don't line up in any discernible pattern, save for a few moments where they sort of look like they're making a broad statement about The Theater.
Rapp is extremely creative and talented in his provocative scenarios (a troupe of guerrilla theater artists that could be right out John Waters' Cecil B. Demented) and his artistry knows no bounds when it comes to profanity ("Oh, tongue-fuck my ass, you skanky carnivorous whale"). And his actors are certainly game for the ride, with all of them cranking out notable performances (especially Cooper Daniels, for whom "cranking" has a special double entendre). But it really just seems like Rapp is trying to shock the audience: our first glimpse, when walking in and through the lovely motel room set, is of Stash (Cooper) sitting naked on the toilet, masturbating, grunting, and pushing out a turd (which we'll later learn he's obsessed with), all from behind an ominous black ski mask. Yes, in order to finance the play he's writing and acting in ("Scrape My Colon, colon, The Ballad of the Turd Burglar"), he and his colleagues, director Dee (Jessica Pohly) and stage manager Wilson (Rob Yang) have come to New Hampshire to rob a local bingo game.
I'm with Rapp up to this point. The banter is as engaging as it is shocking, and his in-jokes set up a real twisted camaraderie amongst the thieves. Particularly effective is Rapp's mastery of understatement, the way in which his quiet recluses -- in this case, Wilson -- end up catching our attention when we grow exhausted of watching the drugged Stash and the militant Dee. For this reason, I'm still with Rapp when he introduces a new character, Steve (Evan Enderle), who is the shiest and quietest of the bunch. Steve is a townie who lives and works with his parents at the motel, trapped as the one permanent thing in a house full of transients: his father violently comes and goes, his mother, Mrs. Wood (Missel Leddington) is too far gone, sunk in depression, to be considered a resident of anything other than her mind, and his ex-girlfriend now calls herself Jackson (Corinne Donly) and trolls for women at the lesbian Bingo tables. For him, these actors, who come from New York (a place he envisions as having "a knife on every corner") are dangerously cool, and possibly his only escape.
In a series of calm and considered scenes, Wilson half-rapes Steve (it's consensual, and they never finish, but the lack of pleasure or passion -- like robotic torture -- implies otherness) in some of the most graphic staging I've seen in the theater, compacted by the intimate space of the Flea Theater. And from there, with that severance of emotion, that ultimate abnegation of self for escapism, all of Rapp's drama appears not as a pattern, but as a series of stray dots that up until now have just randomly happened to closely approximate a dramatic thought.
Friday, November 09, 2007