Thursday, August 27, 2009

Fringe/The Books

There's something rather disturbingly cute about watching Helen (Aadya Bedi), a latex-clad dominatrix who goes by the name Mistress Chimera, hand a mix-tape to her stolid client, Mark (Scott David Nogi). "Twelve songs to get off the ledge," she says, and in response, Mark offers her his favorite book, The Sun Also Rises--pulling it from one of several foot-tall stacks. The point Michael Edison Hayden's making in this play, The Books, is that we're all trying to connect: sometimes we just need some strictly enforced guidelines to help us get there.

Sadly, Matt Urban's direction isn't half as severe as it needs to be. As a result, there's little difference between the role-playing and the reality. In fact, given how timidly Helen "spits" down Mark's throat, or crushes his hand beneath her heel, it's hard to understand why either of them even bothers with the in-character stuff instead of just sticking to their post-session conversations. (It doesn't help that this is where Hayden's focus is, too.) It's not a problem, but it trivializes Mark's need for humiliation, and turns Helen's job into a gimmick, as if the only way to tell an old story is to dress it up in a new profession. Bedi and Nogi do their best, and once they settle on the idea of playing things like "golden showers" for laughs, their characters start to come alive. And at this point, they get cramped by Hayden's script, which is full of out-of-character observations (e.g., "she threw back her head like a Pez dispenser") and a lot of repetition, as if he's not sure we're following.

Once they've dropped their acts, the final third of the play manages to deal with the real issues that people have connecting with one another: "Can't gives us an excuse for not doing things," says Mark, explaining his need to be told what to do. Out of 5 stars, with 1 being "Pure masochism, and not the good kind" and 5 being "Kinky, without any kinks," The Books gets a 2.5.

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