Saturday, March 21, 2009
(Click on the title to see a short clip from this wonderful play.)
In the USA, Minneapolis is second only to NYC in theaters per capita. There is always fascinating work on almost any night of the week. This weekend, The Walker Art Center and three local theaters hosted Ape, a brilliant play by the Englishman Gary Stevens. (Wednesday, March 18 at the Bryant Lake Bowl, a wild venue that is a restaurant, bowling alley, and theater all in one. Friday, March 20 at Red Eye Theater, and Saturday, March 21 at Open Eye Figure Theater.)
The play discards traditional characters, plotlines, and voice in favor of setting, tonality, and repetition. The three characters utter banalities, throw-away phrases, and cliches rapidly and some times on top of one another. They copy, or ape, one another until someone introduces another phrase, and slowly the tone of the 'conversation' shifts. It usually becomes extremely confrontational, with two people against one. For instance, at one point a character repeatedly says, "I should be going now." At first, the other two characters respond with a seemingly ho-hum, "Yes, you should get along now." As the phrases are repeated, they become more and more sarcastic. Eventually, the characters are yelling at each other using the same sort of clichéd or banal expressions.
About four times during the play one character exits and the remaining two talk about how great "home sweet home" is. Then, in the closest we get to actual dialogue in the whole play, one character asks the other if they like, in one instance, carpeting; in another, children; in another animals. When the third character re-enters, the other two, who had gotten cozy, react in fear.
Throughout the play there is wild and hilarious slapstick. But the Three Stooges have more character delineation than the actors in this play, and that's good.
Without traditional characters and plot, the play moves through four circles, each containing a variety of tonalities — from admiration, to fear, to disgust, to disappointment, to outrage, to cuteness. Every circle is bounded by two characters talking about "home sweet home."
The play explores the way we are, in many ways, instrument-al (think of music) in creating a tone with those about us, who are equally instrument-al. It also explores the way seemingly throw away phrases and words, not 'personalities', are often the glue that hold such tonalities together.
(Tomorrow I am taking my daughter to another play. The Penumbra Theater, often thought of as the leading African American theater company in the country, is putting on A Raisin in the Sun, at the Guthrie Theater complex.)