Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. While those ominous words may not hang above Flashpoint’s door, Dante would recognize this place.
Cautiously making our way around the darkened room — the seats are roped off with black ribbon — accompanied by a jazzy score with otherworldly tones, we are both beckoned and repelled by an aural and visual cacophony coming from installations along the length of the stage. Intrigued by their blinking, beeping, honking (that’s the traffic video center stage on a six-by-eight-foot screen) and hypnotically rippling (its little video brother right beside it), we almost trip over the metal-framed cube at the entryway.
A young blond man (James T. Majewski), his porcelain skin and floor-length, pink-and-white-feathered boa and pink briefs eerily highlighted by the fluorescent lights around the cage rim, sits motionless on the floor. Lizzie B. (Lisa Hodsoll), a celebrated visual artist — black-clad, raccoon-eyed, red-lipped with a tongue like a scythe, she “created” the “art object” (as Majewski-in-the-box is identified in the program) — is bargaining with Arden (Stephen F. Schmidt), a veddy British art collector who wants to know how much “it” is. Informed that the price is $300,000, he fixes the fixture with a chilling stare: “He’s mine.” Before long, Lizzie will be as well.
Previewed at Page-to-Stage last September, Magnificent Waste, by the multicultural playwright Caridad Svich, confronts American consumerism with European nihilism. It is not a happy meeting.
Hodsoll skillfully wields Lizzie’s scythe, at one point razzing the Cinderella-blonde, mini-skirted and ostensibly bubble-headed film star Mindy Darling (Sarah Strasser), in a whiskey-soaked bray, that Mindy’s name is everywhere “because your publicist plants it everywhere.” Hodsoll can also make her blood-red slash of a mouth and expressionless eyes recall characters from the commedia dell’arte. At one point, despite Lizzie’s apparent coldness, we see in Hodsoll’s face — her red lips drawn back tightly in almost a suck-it-up caricature; her eyes, beneath their deadness, clearly fighting to hold back tears — that Lizzie has fallen for Arden.
As Arden, Schmidt’s coldness, unlike Holden’s, is satanic rather than suck-it-up: Lucifer to Lizzie’s lost soul. Tall, dark and business-suited with the handsome charm of a top-rated salesman, Schmidt makes his character’s name a mockery missing only a last letter. He will be matched in indifference, if not in intent, by Bret Carver (Tony Villa), a smarmy TV talk-show host who never met a publicity stunt he didn’t like. Another lost soul who hides it better than Lizzie — Villa’s flickering uncertainty suggests that it won’t be long before Bret, too, plunges headlong into the pit — he exchanges quasi-affectionate insults with Lizzie as they sling back glass after glass of the hard stuff, which Lizzie also uses at intervals to wash down a pharmacy of pills.
Strasser’s Mindy is neither victim nor victimizer. Instead, she is daddy’s little girl who thrills to every new toy — one of the few laughs you’ll get here is watching her prance around the stage, accessorized with coaster-sized pink-and-white earrings and necklace and a white miniskirt hemmed with fuchsia feathers. But Strasser keeps us keenly aware that daddy’s little girl has learned to play the game well. She knows how to get what she wants — not just expect it.
Svich describes herself as “a playwright, songwriter, editor and translator living between many cultures” whose plays are “documents of internal diasporas.”
While Factory 449’s Magnificent Waste has many of the elements needed for people to be able to peer into the emotional maelstrom of those diasporas, including fine performances all around supported by Jesse Achtenberg and Andrea Crnkovic’s imaginative, inventive stagecraft and Moletress’s directorial insight, the audience — or at least this audience member — is left with a feeling of emptiness at the end.
by Caridad Svich
Directed by John Moletress
Produced by Factory 449
Reviewed by Leslie Weisman
Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes with no intermission