Maybe there’s something in the water in Ireland. Not only are they writing new plays by the boxcar, they’re writing new types of plays, using approaches which never occurred to Aristotle. Three of these theatrical adventures will be on display at the Mead Flashpoint today (Nov. 12) and tomorrow at 7 p.m. They’re all in development, and hence not reviewable, but I thought you might like to know what they’re about, so you could see if they’re your cup of Jameson’s.
Twenty Ten: January-February: The World is Getting Bigger Not Smaller is a play written by – well, you might have written part of it. The company THEATREclub invited folks to add their names to an electronic database; every day the company e-mails fifty people on the list and ask them “what did you learn today?” Their answers make up the content of this piece. (You can get in on the fun, too, by e-mailing email@example.com.) Three actors – Grace Dyas, Conor Cillan Madden and Dee Roycroft – read the responses in rapid fire, so that they sound like a prayer litany. Music (memorably, Bob Geldof’s “I Don’t Like Mondays”) swells up from the background. The actors get up and move around; Roycroft pours water over her ample hair and whips it at Madden, who has commandeered a microphone; eventually all three actors read the revelations simultaneously, so that each one competes for our attention. Notwithstanding these distractions, the various epiphanies catch our ears. I am assuming that most of the correspondents are young, as the remarks generally deal with sex and booze, but an occasional idiosyncratic comment – I am thinking of “I learned my niece’s brain is all right” – contain the wispy hint of a full-length play within.
THEATREclub is not, of course, the first company to think of mining the Internet for material. Taffety Punk’s chilling suicide.chat.room used that source for the content of its meditation on self-death and those who talk about it; and even now My First Time is using its electronic confessional for a show about people being initiated into their sexuality. Thus Twenty Ten can best be seen not as cutting edge but as part of a wave of theater which invites the audience to electronically share the stage with the performers. Roycroft, who helped organize Project Brand New, is particularly good in this.
You might also have written 565+, but you didn’t – Marie O’Rourke did, and she delivers it in a soft clear voice as Project Brand New’s second piece. O’Rourke is no professional performer – she’s a schoolteacher, and an audience member, like most of us. Her subject is this: theater can save your life. She spent her own life largely in misery, locked in a volatile marriage to a man with a severe drinking problem, and years of therapy (and an ill-advised venture into wind-surfing) were of no help. It was only after she began regularly going to plays – and she’s now seen more than five hundred sixty-five of them – that she began seeing her life in a coherent way, and giving herself the compassion she deserves. Great playwrights, from Sophocles to Albee, are more than brilliant technicians – they are also wise people, and their highest and best purpose is to increase our understanding while moving our hearts. We will never be Princes of Denmark, but many people have lost a parent and, for whatever reason, felt ill will against the survivor. Nor do we need to suffer housing discrimination in order to know what it feels like to be isolated or scorned, or to believe, as Walter Younger did, that you need to risk everything in order to climb out of the mire of your life. O’Rourke learned from the plays she saw that the world is larger and more forgiving than it seemed to be in the small circle that had been her life. It is for this reason – and not for the enormous paycheck – that our brothers and sisters in the acting profession work their exacting trade.
The great actors make the emotions they represent seem completely authentic, so that we forget we are watching a play and feel as though we are watching a human being experiencing pain or joy. O’Rourke, who begins her story sitting in the audience and returns to her seat for the end, doesn’t seem authentic – she is authentic. When she sings the little song she made up to entice her young children back from the neighbor’s to their drink-battered home, her eyes mist up with the long-remembered pain, and so do ours.
Project Brand New closed with Ballet Ruse. Imagine A Life in the Theatre, rewritten by a choreographer with the serious parts taken out. Or imagine the late, great Victor Borge in a tutu. Muime Bloomer and Emma O’Kane play out the sweaty lives of ballerinas condemned by nature and an unforgiving profession to remain in the ensemble – Bloomer because she is too tall (I am guessing she is about 5’ 9”) and O’Kane because she is too wide (in fact, she has the robust, athletic frame of a female flyweight boxer). Although they pretend to be barely adequate, they are both in fact great ballerinas – O’Kane has just been named Outstanding Dancer of the Year by Dance Europe – with nearly perfect control over every voluntary nerve in their bodies, including the ones in their faces.
The Ballet Ruse at this year’s ABSOLUT Fringe Festival
Bloomer’s face recalls the great comic actress Imogene Coca; to watch the expression of horror steal over it as she slowly realizes that she is standing en pointe before an audience still wearing her legwarmers is to understand not just the dancer’s life but the things which make all of us fear the spotlight. Her one-word response perfectly encapsulates our reactions.
The projects are still in development (they solicit your feedback on little index cards, which you hang up on paperclip trees) but they are nonetheless full of delights. Project Brand New is full of other treats, too. On the night I attended, the fine songbird Julie Feeney appeared wearing a dress made out of sheet music from her new album “Pages” stitched together for the occasion, and sang two lovely selections a cappella. Plus, Solas Nua laid out a table full of free PBJ sandwiches and cans of PBR – the perfect evening snack, unless you are a ballerina (and there is water for you if you are).
There are some terrific paintings by Adam de Boer in the gallery. And the tickets are reasonable — $15 for the whole show, which runs 2 and 1/2 hours, or, well, free if you say the magic word (“Yahoo”) at the door. (Free tickets are handed out on a space-available basis only, after all the paying customers are seated).
Project Brand New continues Friday and Saturday, Nov 12 and 13 at 7pm at Flashpoint, 916 G Street NW, Washington, DC.
We’ll be seeing more from the company Project Brand New when Solas Nua brings them back with all new works Feb 17-19, 2011 and June 16-18, 2011