Because my primary means of understanding the world is through Wikipedia—it is an astonishing device—the first thing I did after attending Second-Hand Smoke was confirm the definition of "avant-garde." Wikipedia says: "The avant-garde pushes the boundaries of what is accepted as the norm within definitions of art/culture/reality.... This concept is applied to the work done by small bands of intellectuals and artists as they open pathways through new cultural or political terrain for society to follow." Right, that's what I thought. Which is weird, because throughout the desperately avant-garde Second-Hand Smoke, I started to think that the term meant "an easy excuse for bullshit to masquerade as art."

If anyone tells you that there's anything interesting, coherent, or remotely meaningful in Second-Hand Smoke—and this includes playwright Mac Wellman and director James Moore—they're lying. Split into three acts, the first has an intellectual (Ben Plont) quarreling, then dancing with, two obsequious men; the second features two girls (Danika Stochosky and Yolanda Suarez) engaging in a contest to see who can annoy the audience the most (it's a tie, but they both get As for effort); the third consists of a wheelchair-bound magician (Tom Moorman) shouting at someone who's either his assistant, wife, daughter, or none of the above (Frances Binder).

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Throughout, there are appearances by other uninteresting characters and whispered, shouted, and muttered non-sequiturs (in fact, every line of dialogue here might be a non-sequitur, which I guess is an accomplishment of some sort), and it all grates horribly before blending into masturbatory white noise. (The play's one interesting aspect—a series of white ribbons that first lay on the floor, then are raised to create a ceiling—is clever. But it's hardly a good sign when limp white ribbons are a production's strongest element.)

When avant-garde stuff is done right, there should be some sort of realization: "Oh, this is a better, or at least a more interesting, way of doing things. This has promise, potential." But when avant-garde is done incorrectly, it just seems lazy, self-indulgent, and—paradoxically—the exact opposite of progress. In Second-Hand Smoke's case, it also makes you never want to see a play again. Sure, maybe that's the sentiment that Second-Hand Smoke is trying express—it's as good of a guess as any, right? But I kind of doubt it.

SLAY Film Fest
In person at the Clinton St. Theater 10/29 & 10/30