Thursday, August 23, 2007

PLAY: FRINGE, "Double Vision"

Photo/Jim Baldassare

Barbara Blumenthal-Ehrlich's Double Vision is a sad tale of the collapsing modern relationship. From the opening's relentless telephone ring to the climax's desperate silence, love is transformed into a siege: it's no surprise that our heroes enjoy fucking to the 1812 Overture. Dave, Mark, and Ben hole themselves up into their shared apartment, and imagine things: Dave gets into routine accidents caused by a phantasmal blond, Mark itches with the guilt of all his affairs with married women, and Ben lives in a fantasy so pronounced that he has to lose his true love in order to live.

If the men seem insane, their women aren't much better: Celia, their neighbor, survives her marriage by working the opposite of her husband's hours; Mary's attempts to force Dave into stopping her from leaving for California have made her irrational and unable to think for herself; and Michelle believes blindly in her blissful future with Ben, which is why the double vision of perception dooms so many relationships.

That double vision comes back to haunt the playwright: Blumenthal-Ehrlich is perceptive, and she evenly represents the characters, but she never gives us anything that's 20/20. Celia talks in the jumbled panic of the fast-paced when she describes the maternity ward: "I mean, babies live and everything. It's a lot harder. Not it's not depressing. You have more life going on in radiation therapy than you do in the outside world. You have honesty and warmth and closeness, and then they die. It's like putting life in a trash compactor. It's a full rich experience. Even if it's condensed." Parts of that make sense: Celia, like Ben, prefers to know where she stands with things, and like all the characters in this play, fears commitment.

But why? Double Vision spins a series of scenarios at us, at the heart of which is Dave's growing madness, a heart-sickening fear that drives him to literally self-destruct. Even when he strips and walks around naked, he is no less hidden than before: it's just a different type of angst. Shane Jacobsen manages to reveal a lot of Dave's insecurity, and the rest of the cast is suitably eccentric (yet sweet). Rebecca Henderson's self-doubt as Mary gives her some great tactic shifts, and Quinn Mattfeld takes Mark on a real exploration of his personal choices. But the understanding gets stuck behind the thick lenses of wordy everyday banter.

Ben ultimately confesses that he lacks basic awareness of people, and with that, responsibility. "Change is awareness. Awareness is change." But that makes the awareness of Double Vision morbid; what's clear to us remains painfully closed to the characters, and it forces the change to be tragic. Celia's right to describes love as "like asking for a fork and having a million knives rain down on you.... It's a utensil, but it's not quite what you asked for. And it's a lot of what you didn't ask for." Double Vision feels a little overwhelming, and, in the final minutes, certainly not what you asked for or expected. But like love, this frisson of surprise makes for an eerily gripping play.

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