Thursday, November 11, 2010


In Doris to Darlene, Jordan Harrison attempted to tell a generation-spanning story through the power and evolution of music (specifically, Wagner); in Amazons and Their Men, he more succinctly linked Greek mythology with Nazi propaganda and escapist fantasy by distilling the essence of film (specifically, Leni Riefenstahl). His latest, Futura, tackles a more modest art form--Paul Renner's modern typography--but ties it to a less-than-impressive B-movie plot, muddying both the passion and the point of the play. What begins as a solid and engaging college lecture ("From Pen to Pixel: A History of Typography") from an on-edge professor (Mia Katigbak) is soon hijacked by a spotty science-fiction melodrama, in which the idealistic Gash (Christopher Larkin) and hardened Grace (Angela Lin) kidnap her at the behest of their leader, Edward (an awfully over-the-top Edward A. Hajj), who hopes to use her knowledge of the past to bring books--or more specifically, uncensored information--back into this paper-free dystopia.

Harrison is most effective when he's able to play on our sentimentality, but for the first half of the play, he deals in hard facts about fonts, and for the rushed second half, he's trapped by the conventions of his chosen genre, which undercut him at every turn, particularly the pulpy action sequences, which Liz Diamond is unable to stage on David Evans Morris's clever--but tiny--room of a set. Moreover, despite a good effort to subtly embed the differences of his "near-future" setting in the professor's lecture, he still winds up bogged down in needless exposition, the sort of hackneyed dialogue that both made and destroyed William Shatner's career: "With the Zero Drive, we could begin again." No, his safest, strongest moments are those that require no explanation--the professor's clear love of printed language ("A font can make meaning") and Gash's yearning to turn from bomb-making to letter-writing.

Harrison remains trapped between worlds and genres, unable to flesh out his themes as Ann Marie Healy's What Once We Felt did, or to get as harrowingly human as Ashlin Halfnight's Artifacts of Consequence, both of which covered similar themes (the importance of creative expression, the effect of its loss). Harrison's Futura would make a terrible font, confused as its individual characters are between being bold-faced, adventurers or pared-down, sans-serifed agents of rebellion. Even at its most legible moments, Futura doesn't seem to be communicating anything of real value; audit his lecture, but drop out of the play.

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