Imago Theatre, 231-9581
17 SE 8th Ave.
I don't get it.
I know, I know, that's what the unenlightened say. It's what hillbillies say about Shakespeare, and it's what football players say about modern art. It's what anybody with a brain in their head says about football. It's a phrase that has gradually transformed from an innocent lack of understanding to a blatant critique of the material that is misunderstood. It is used by those too lazy or too close-minded to look beyond a lack of instant accessibility for harder to find, and thus often more satisfying, meanings. It's a phrase used by people who are happy going their whole lives without ever searching for the truth.
That said, I don't get it. I don't get the Imago's latest production, No Can Do, but what you have to understand is that to me, not getting something is not necessarily a bad thing, but is indeed often a very good thing. I see Hard-Begotten Meaning as a fence. On one side of the fence is the Garden of Formula. Movies like Gone in 60 Seconds and most Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals grow here. On the other side is the Field of Chaos, where nothing grows except weeds that are so thick you can't even tell where you are. The best plays are tightrope walkers, delicately advancing along the fence without ever falling to either side. No Can Do walks that fence fairly well. It offers just enough linear entertainment to remain compelling, while maintaining its provocatively elusive roots.
The play's structure seems simple enough: Jerry Mouawad, who is both an actor of great depth and range, and a skilled ventriloquist, sits on a chair in the middle of two squares for nearly an hour, and converses with a booming voice from above about his upcoming role in Jesus Christ Superstar. This "Voice" in general is the great mystery of the play--its agenda, its source, its very existence are all wonderfully mysterious. Supposedly, Mouawad's character is in his dressing room, and the voice is coming over the loudspeaker, providing him with updates on the evening's performance. But as the play progresses, Mouawad's blank-faced ventriloquism begins to slip, and as his mouth gradually voices the "Voice" more and more blatantly, one begins to wonder if really he hasn't just been talking to himself the whole time.
It's a marvelous device, whatever it is, and it left my brain reeling in a good way. I didn't get it, and I'm glad I didn't. I mean, they could have just performed Jesus Christ Superstar, and then my brain would hardly have worked at all.
*A side note: There was a span of approximately seven and two-thirds minutes at the start of the show during which I was very distracted because the play's abrasive light and sound design caused great nausea in my girlfriend, forcing her to rush out of the theater and into a nearby bathroom to avoid a nasty mess. No, she's not "oversensitive," or "delicate"--in fact, she's quite healthy and robust, but she ate some bad food, which wasn't sitting right before the show began, and then was agitated by the steady stream of strobesque flickers that accentuate nearly every, yes, every SYLLABLE uttered during No's hour-long rampage. Why is every syllable uttered accentuated by a flickering light? Well, that's another mystery, but the moral is, don't see this thing on a full stomach.