Sowelu Ensemble at Pacific Crest School, 116 NE 29th, 230-2090, Fri-Sat 8 pm, through April 24, $10-15
I hurried down to the Pacific Crest School after work on Friday to catch Sowelu Ensemble's new piece Am I Turning Into a Fish? The bus delivered me with two minutes to spare. After my mad dash to the theater, I found it curious that I was the first and only person in the audience at two minutes to showtime. Was my watch fast? No. Was the play starting? I couldn't tell. Fish? takes place in the anonymous humdrum of an American office. One actor sat in a corner, at a desk, reading a magazine and watching television, which switched erratically between Animal Planet, Carmen Miranda, and C-SPAN. Someone would walk backstage, then reemerge. Ooh, maybe this wasn't a play at all, but a happening. At 10 minutes into the show, the actors finally took the stage. The intentional late start would no doubt have some brilliant justification within the context of the play.
The players assumed their roles as office drones, stuck in the perpetual motion of the professional hamster wheel, their only solace coming in the form of fantasy and group dementia. They argued, fucked, chased each other around like mircats, but by no means did anyone work. Unfortunately the intentionally nebulous structure, mood, and aesthetic didn't work either. Brutally long stretches of improvised dialogue rendered potentially charming characters vacant. The collage of interrupting television segments was like watching my stoned college roommate surf through basic cable.
Somewhere behind the action was a fuzzy theme; the plight of the American Individual in a globalized economy. Classism, racism, and sexism made cameo appearances as well. The end result was a ritualized whining that offered no hope, no solutions, and no entertainment. Where Samuel Beckett or Jack Smith could litter a stage with garbage and still convey their genius, Fish? mucks up the stage with stream-of-consciousness trash. Sowelu manages to take the soul-sucking doldrums of modern office life and make them even more boring. I wonder if the 10-minute late start was the actors avoiding going to work, under-whelmed by the thought of another punch of the clock? TOUSSAINT PERRAULT