Saturday, September 17, 2005

Theater of Unexpected Inactivity

I’m just pissed about Francis Fregoli.

You’d think I’d be upset because I didn’t realize that The Theater of the New Ear consisted of what essentially were radio plays: “Anomalisa” and “Hope Leaves the Theater.” I purposely didn’t research the plays before hand, but I immediately felt suspicious when I walked into the theater and saw that the stage had no backdrop. When the cast of “Anomalisa” walked out on stage and seated themselves at miked desks, I knew something was up. A talkie, in the literal sense.

Not that it wasn’t entertaining. I actually liked it a lot. I’ve always had a thing for radio plays and voiceover work and stuff like that. I just wish I knew ahead of time. What I can’t get over is Francis fucking Fregoli.

The program states that “Francis Fregoli is the pen name of an established writer who wishes to remain anonymous.” He wrote “Anomalisa,” and though it’s my less favorite of the two plays I saw, I’m really annoyed that a simple internet search won’t turn up who Francis Fregoli is. No, instead I get plot summaries. “‘Anomalisa’ concerns a motivational speaker and his one-night stand with a pitiful deformed woman.” And that about sums it up. I think I like the end best, because at that point Jennifer Jason Leigh plays the singing voice of an antique Japanese sex doll that oozes semen. And she does a good job. Oh, actually I think my favorite part is that Jennifer Jason Leigh is a midget — seriously. Oh, and actually I feel bad saying that because the second play had Peter Dinklage, who actually is a midget. But I knew that about him already. Not her.

I attended the play primarily for the second half, “Hope Leaves the Theater,” which was written by Charlie Kaufman, who is kind of a hero of mine. I like how ambitious his stuff is. But I’m not yet entirely convinced I really liked “Hope.” It’s po-mo to an extreme. It breaks the frame of narrative seemingly just for the joy of breaking the frame of narrative,

The setup: in the program for the play, Kaufman has listed the three actors — Hope Davis, Dinklage and Meryl Streep — and all the roles they play. Streep, for example purportedly plays Sally, Kelly, Jane, the Empress of Japan, Mrs. Finnigan, Boy #2, Joan of Arc, Daisy, Teresa D’Useau, Radio Man, Sailor #1, The Killer and Broken Katie. Furthermore, Kaufman also lists a breakdown of the play’s scenes:

I quote:
Scene one: Elevator
Scene two: Elevator. Ten minutes later.
Scene three: Joe’s living room. Dawn.
Scene four: The “kitchen.” Later that day.
Scene five: Offices of Rolling Stone magazine, 1969.
Scene six: Engine room of an Argentinean freighter, 1943.
Scene seven: The void. Thursday, 6:53 a.m. EST.
Scene eight: Elevator. Exactly thirty years later.
Scene nine: Joe’s living room. Midnight of the same day.
Scene ten: The void. Early morning.
Scene eleven: The eye of a hurricane. Easter Island. Now.
Scene twelve: Elevator. One thousand years later.
Scene thirteen: A field of marigolds.
Which is great and enticing and all that. But the play never actually shows any of this, really. It technically starts before the lights go down, with Hope Davis sitting on stage but voicing the thoughts of Louise, an angry, miserable woman sitting in the audience. She hats Charlie Kaufman, likes Meryl Streep, thinks she could have been the third Coen brother and is annoyed by the British couple sitting next to her. The play starts, but Davis stays in her head — until her cell phone rings. Streep breaks character and angrily rebukes Davis’s character, who leaves the theater.

Only Hope Davis herself never goes anywhere. We just follow her narrative as she walks away from UCLA, on the bus, into her house, with Streep and Dinklage supplying the voices of the people she passes by on the way. And it’s convincing, too. I didn’t even care that I didn’t get to see the scene in the offices of Rolling Stone. I was impressed enough to see how the actors would break character and address each other and all that.

The downside was that the play concludes with Dinklage playing a smarmy critic giving “Hope Leaves the Theater” a bad review. And he addresses the play’s problems — like it being “too precious” — and basically eliminates the need for you or me or anybody else to bring them up. And I feel like that’s cheating — writing a post-modern play but then using its post-modernism to evade actually criticism. “He’s so good he knows what he did wrong — and he told us!”

I still like Charlie Kaufman and “Adaptation” and “Eternal Sunshine.” I just haven’t made up my mind on this one yet. I only know that I'm pissed I can't find out who Francis Fregoli is.

Did I mention that Jennifer Jason Leigh is a fucking Hummel?

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