Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Joys of Fantasy

"For those of you that can't remember," says Claire (Claire Kavanah), the narrator of The Joys of Fantasy, "that's Teri, and she's at the bottom of a well." True enough, at least symbolically: a nightgowned Teri (Teri Incampo) is sitting in a ring of blue beads. "She's really, really thirsty," continues this narrator, determined to make a point: "The thirst is a metaphor for her loss of Scott." For emphasis, the stage manager, Susannah (Susannah Berard), adds some details, so laboriously, so seriously, that it removes the idea of "fantasy" and then sucks away what little "joy" is left. At least Caroline (Caroline Gart) has a cute sense of humor about things, though the only thing the cast seems sincere about is that their show used to be called "Our Town Revisited" until they were almost sued.

It's assumed that Mitchell Polin, who wrote and directed this, went into this with good intentions: the show quickly paves its way to theater hell. All the disclaimers in the world couldn't save this inexcusable mess--in fact, the first thirty minutes of "setting the stage" are what kill the show, as Claire conceited explains the conceits of the experiment: "Take art. Smash it up. And try to figure something out." Personally, I don't attend theater looking to make up my own story, and in any case, when Kim announces that we should do exactly that, Caroline points out that they're really trying to abuse the audience's imagination.

It hardly matters: Our Town this ain't. The cerebral hums of a live band--Tungsten74--continue through the show, and the long, philosophical discourses are, for some reason, projected up onto a notably non-minimal scrim. Throw in literal props--phones, chairs, even a tumbleweed--and there's even less room for imagination. Again, it hardly matters: if the audience is still paying attention by this point, their imaginations are hard at work trying to imagine that there's any sort of chemistry between Teri and her kidnapped husband, Scott (Scott Troost), and trying to pretend that the preening Michael (Michael Cross Burke) has an ounce of bad-assery in him.

The cast of The Joys of Fantasy knows it has these problems; that's why it spends so much time attempting to dismiss them. The problem is that saying "Why do you always have to understand what is happening" only calls more attention to the fact that nobody does. Referring to Turner's Falls only reminds us that this is not Grover's Corner. Magic cannot exist without reality, and there is little joy in pure madness.

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