Friday, August 28, 2009

Fringe/The Event

At first, the meta-existentialism of The Event is delightful: Matt Oberg, referring to himself in John Clancy's words as The Man, runs through a list of assumptions we can make about him and his role, and then about us, The Audience, and our role, whether we be theatergoers, actor colleagues, professional "observers"--i.e., critics--or family. It's a bit like Will Eno's Thom Pain, only far more straightforward: "The Man steps forward," The Man announces, "and the lighting changes dramatically." Over the course of the precisely timed and "plotted" 63 minutes, The Man will continue to break every conventional illusion about the theater, from his admission that his momentary break in character is scripted, as is his fumbling for a line, as are his gestures, which he assures us--demonstrating a silly movement--are the exact same, every time.

But after a while, the delight fades into a numbness, the sort of anesthetized state that may lead some to a paradigm shift, a waking up, a sudden realization that Clancy's goal isn't simply to pass off good-natured glibness while Oberg keeps a straight face. No, after the "theatricality" is good and dead, and our minds are all too aware of how the technician flicks the lights to produce a certain effect, how a seated man commands a different sort of respect than the standing man, and how the unseen stage manager might be wearing a plaid shirt and a sombrero, after all of this, Oberg suddenly expands his scope, ruminating now--in his affable yet oddly affectless fashion (as if he were self-effacing)--on the idea that we are all actors, in our own way. (Life doesn't strike him as a well-made play.)

If Richard Foreman is at the Ontological-Hysteric edge, then John Clancy--oddly enough, considering the sort of frantic work his company usually puts on--is at the Ontological-Anhedonic edge, and ultimately, The Event is so self-conscious that it's hard to actually experience it on a deeper level than the most facile one. That said, the facade is plenty funny, especially for serious theatergoers in desperate need of a chill pill. On a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being "Totally missable" and 5 being "The can't-miss social event of the season," The Event gets a 3.5.

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