Sunday, June 19, 2011

THEATER: Any Night

Considering that the writers of Any Night are also its stars, the sleepy-eyed theatergoers who stagger out of the cavernous Laba Theater are bound to wonder if there's much of a line between the actors and their characters. Is Anna the sleepwalker who wakes up fondling knives, breathing ghost-movie-style into mirrors, and taking a medication that does nothing to keep her from stupid activities like driving or dancing while asleep -- or is it Medina Hahn, foolishly acting in her sleep? Is Patrick the intrusive upstairs neighbor/voyeur who wants to take her out on a date, or is that Daniel Arnold, hoping to exploit an embarrassing condition for financial and sexual gain? Massive plot holes aside, the fact that Hahn and Arnold are delusionally determined to tour this painfully flimsy show (and adapt it to the screen) makes them simultaneously perfect for these roles . . . and unwittingly awful in them. Here's a backhanded compliment: they're too earnest for the schlock they've written. They honestly seem to think that the mere use of Marilyn Manson's "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These)" will deliver the suspenseful atmosphere they're aiming for.
At least the writers can chalk this up to a misguided passion project; what's the excuse of Ron Jenkins, who had previously decently directed Bash'd? Is it that he's so disgusted by the project that he does the bare minimum (so as to claim a paycheck), or is his spine currently on vacation? Evidence points both ways: he does nothing with Peter Porkorny's generic set (a bed bedecked by two giant curtains) and may even worsen it by failing to set out clear dimensions in which to have the action occur. And while David Fraser comes up with a neat single-strobe lighting effect in order to "blink" between reality and dream, Jenkins forgets to have this designer do anything else -- unless you think that Anna's basement apartment looks the same at daybreak as a Greek lip-synch parlor does at midnight. As for the actors themselves, Jenkins endorses their bad habits: Arnold keeps lapsing into his Canadian accent and Anna does far too much "interpretive" dance (which wouldn't be so noticeable if she were actually a good dancer); he does the same for Erin Macklem's costumes, which uncreatively and distractingly keep Anna in pajamas and keep putting Patrick in an evil-looking red hooded jacket.
In any case, and here there be spoilers, Any Night's most insurmountable problem remains its plotting. The play ambiguously opens in the future, the past, or a dream, as Anna lies bleeding in the arms of a stranger, whispering about how "One of you will die, and one of you will die inside," then immediately reveals it to be the future, for the play has now jumped to Anna's first encounter with Patrick, from whom she is renting an apartment. "Have I met you before?" she asks, strongly hinting at what the unshocking revelation that Patrick has met her sleepwalking self before, and long before Hahn and Arnold make the laughable choice to send her to a psychic (played, even more laughably, by Arnold), it becomes clear that Patrick is doomed. This, in turn, saps all the suspense from his diabolical schemes . . . schemes which, in fact, are just vouyeristic: he tapes and edits images of her "sleeping" and sells it on the Internet. (I'm going to take their word for this; I'd rather not dumb myself down any further by researching the sleep-porn industry.) If there's a twist -- and, as staged, that's debatable -- it's that it is Anna's "dream" personality who figures out Patrick's plan and that when Anna realizes "she" has killed him, it "kills her" inside, leading to her meaningless (but convenient) car crash, which all too neatly wraps around to where the play began . . . which is fitting, since Any Night never actually goes anywhere.
Unfortunately for the audience, the play is not merely a bad dream (though this unthrilling thriller may unwittingly put you to sleep): it's eighty minutes that you will never get back. In a world filled with far more entertainingly delusional people, this may be one of the rare cases where I can honestly recommend Charlie Sheen's Two and a Half Men as a better use of your time.

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