“The room is pregnant with possibilities” sighs actress Annie Huey, reclining in a chair and gazing out to us. The play she’s adopted to fill the space is A.D., a whirling vision of the early twenty-first century. Huey has a sparkling grin and energy like a champagne bottle, and her chirpy appeal pulls us through rapid rotating stories of modern women, whose lives flash into view and then tilt away like broken glass in a kaleidoscope.
It’s an ambitious piece by Riverrun Theatre Company out of Madison, Indiana. Still, theater that purports to cut through the static of today’s frenzied world needs to have something clear and solid to say. Otherwise it rings hollow, swallowed up in the realm of the aimless chatter it attempts to transcend.
Huey gives it her all, hurrying onstage with a rolling travel bag. She is the epitome of modern humanity: in a word, late. She keeps up the pace through the scattered scenes, playing identity hopscotch and riffing on how we lose bits of ourselves despite our ability to ring, Pingg, Digg, Flickr, Tumblr, text, beep, Tweet, and generally make noise.
These passages, in fact, are the most abrasive. In a wireless world it would be interesting to search for the ties that bind, but A.D. settles for a lecture instead, and comes off one-dimensional and shrill. We’re up for making a little fun of our iPhones and Blackberries, but we want to be shown what the problem is, not just told. Playwright David J. Loehr doesn’t invest much trust in the actor’s art, and so Huey must overtly explain all of her feelings, thoughts, and grievances rather than communicate them through unspoken characterization or physical nuance.
Several scenes are amusing, and the transitions are fast and interesting. But with a theme as broad as “the modern world,” it’s no wonder they end up drifting. For a moment it seems the airport will be the common haunting ground – Huey appears also as a flight attendant with an unorthodox takeoff announcement and later as a ticked-off volunteer trying to get people to fill out a survey – but most other vignettes just scatter the pieces.
The two funniest bits rely on Huey’s charisma. A speed-dating montage allows her Midwestern accent to burble out unexpectedly. As a nude model for art class, she gets stage fright, trying to hide behind cropped blonde hair and hoping wildly for salvation (“You know, there’s really not enough pictures of women with robes on”).
For the most part, though, the characters are carbon-copy, and the punchlines are slight. Rather than landing jokes, Huey skips them like stones across the surface of our attention, and they’re gone before we can laugh. Granted, the Bedroom – with audience on two sides – is a tricky venue. It’s why some different perspectives – perhaps from the eye of an outside director – might have helped to reveal an underlying tone for the play.
In one moment Huey is the wife of a deployed military man, who isn’t sure if the native uprising around him is a riot or merely a demonstration. The questions hangs over the whole of A.D. – do we shelter gut instincts underneath all the circuitry? Can we still riot? – but the clinical, fractured glances at modern life we get here don’t amount to much more than a demonstration of intent.