I'd like to think that I'm bad ass, but I do get shocked by shows all the time--most recently, Simon Farquhar's Rainbow Kiss. Last time I saw an Anthony Neilson play, Penetrator, my knuckles went pretty white: that's why it's so disappointing that Neilson's new play, Stitching, is as "in-yer-face" as a G-rated horror film. The content is far from childish: this two-hander deals with soft-core sadism in the wake of a psyche-shattering moment. But the cast is too cute and cuddly to be much of a menace, the slow-paced direction gives us far too much time to get off the hook, and the scenes distractingly jump about in time.
Both Neilson and director Timothy Haskell are active artists: the adagio atmosphere benefits neither of them. The play opens with awkward silence--turns out that Stu (Gian Murray Gianino) is trying to find the words to respond to Abby's (Meital Dohan) pregnancy--and doesn't get much better from there. Abby plays cat and mouse with Stu (artificial acting: she's never really engaging or responding to him), and he responds with negative choices: "It's not about what I don't want, it's about what you don't want." When things get heated, they turn to therapeutic devices and actually write down what they want to say before speaking it. When will Neilson pull the knife? When will Haskell (who directed the martial-arts spectacle The Jaded Assassin and does a yearly haunted house) scare us?
There's exactly one climactic moment: the role-playing goes too far, and Stu--tired of pretending that he's a client and that his wife's a prostitute--snaps. But rather than breaking apart Garin Marshall's tidy living-room set, fight director Maggie Macdonald uses the safeword right from the get-go, with all the violence choreographed out of the scene. And then there's Dohan, who plays the role with such self-awareness that she isn't able to show us the transition from fear to satisfaction. Dohan, who has made a habit of playing strong characters (like the dominatrix on Weeds), doesn't know how to let go: even when hallucinating about her dead son, tears dripping from her eyes, she's completely in control.
As if a final nail were needed, Haskell goes out of his way to emphasize the distance between characters, both chronologically and physically. Scenes alternate between pregnancy and the prostitution, and each time, the two actors leave the apartment, go to opposite ends of the stage, and in this "empty" space, change their clothes as dissonant music weighs heavy on the soul. This serves only to dress the show up even more, and it's a little like watching an experiment on NOVA, with each step carefully planned out. But even here, Stitching fails, for it demonstrates nothing.
Thursday, July 03, 2008