Not Not Not Not Not Enough Oxygen
Imago Theatre, 17 SE 8th, Though Nov 13, Thurs 7:30 pm, Fri-Sat 8 pm, Sun 7 pm, $10-16
Considering playwright Caryl Churchill's innovative cunning and Imago Theatre's ingenuity, the collaboration of the two should produce a knockout—as was their 2003 production of Churchill's A Number. Imago's current offering—one showcasing two of Churchill's short plays interspersed with contemporary interpretive dance pieces—ranks somewhere near underwhelming.
Not Not Not Not Not Enough Oxygen is the title of one of Churchill's "playlets" and is supposed be uttered gaspingly. This 1971 short is set in a post-apocalyptic 2010 London. Citizens of "the Londons" pen themselves inside their minuscule cubby-flats for fear of the outdoors. Nary a bird nor blade of grass remains in the Londons; water is also in short supply. Imago's sets in this one are spot on—blindingly white, starkly furnished, each housing one dejected tenant and not enough oxygen. Not Not Not Not Not, with its bleak sets and breathless dialogue, is designed to convey tension. Indeed, I felt tense, though it was mainly from the discomfort in watching the actors overacting, underacting, and continually missing the mark.
Much more rewarding is the second act opener, Heart's Desire. The actors here get a better handle on Churchill's language—and they have to. Overlapping dialogue is one of Churchill's trademarks—and here it's repetitive and rapid fire. This playlet finds a couple waiting for the return of their grown daughter from Australia. About 20 lines in, though, the play rewinds (somewhat literally) to the beginning. Each time it begins, we get a little further toward their daughter's arrival. As the rewinding of the play (and occasional fast forwarding) becomes regular, one can imagine a playwright agonizing over the many dramatic possibilities and ultimately incorporating them all. Or a director maliciously devising a way to exhaust the players.
Although the second half was better, this was still not one of Imago's better productions. Did Imago forget that aburdism and minimalism (especially with an author like Caryl Churchill) do not allow a company to become more casual? If so, I'm sure (and I hope) it's only a temporary memory loss.