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Flash Review 1, 8-17: Confessions
in the Dark
ERS Loses its Religion
By Rosa Mei
Copyright 2001 Rosa Mei
The opening scene of Elevator Repair
Service's new work-in-progress, "Room Tone," has us staring at a blank stage while
an actor sitting in the audience prattles away about lost love. He begins rather
innocently imagining future conversations with his girlfriend then turns abruptly
sociopathic. "I understood well those young men murdering their sweethearts."
Some moments like this of "Room Tone," seen last week as part of the Ohio Theatre's
Ice Factory series, are very funny; others play like a bad game of charades at
someone else's family reunion. Overall, it's witty and quirky enough not to bore
us, but not really cogent enough to stimulate us either, often feeling like a
barebones reading in acting class. Meisner 101 mixed with extra long blackouts
and even longer diatribes on relationships, God, church meetings and spiritual
worlds. It's confessional psychobabble with a banana and snippets of Italian thrown
in for good measure. This short 45-minute piece quite often leaves the audience
-- both literally and metaphorically -- sitting in the dark.
Most, but not all, of the text for
"Room Tone" comes from William James's 1902 "Varieties of Religious Experience."
The book itself offers a generally optimistic view of life, its purpose being
"the systematic cultivation of healthy-mindedness." Not a surprise that James
has been quoted in the "There is a Solution" chapter in the original manuscript
of "Alcoholics Anonymous, the Big Book." The directors of Elevator Repair Service,
John Collins and Steve Bodow, have actually fashioned much of the play in the
form of confessional, not unlike those at an AA meeting, though in most cases
a bit more metaphysical. Characters talk about states of ecstasy. An odorless
God. One woman talks about feeling a conscious presence, a vivid tactile hallucination
which compels her to look for an intruder. Indeed all the players here seem to
embody James's belief in feeling as the deeper source of religion. "There is a
stream, a succession of states, or waves, or fields ... of knowledge, of feeling,
of desire, of deliberation, etc., that constantly pass and repass, and that constitute
our inner life."
Perhaps "Room Tone" is an Elevator
Repair Service homage to James's theory of stream-of-consciousness thinking. Quite
appropriate for an experimental theater company known for its meticulously deconstructed
texts and slapstick comedy. We sit and gaze at the darkness as a woman spouts
out a liturgy of sudden revelations in one long run-on sentence then watch the
dreary reaction of another woman half-listening to the confession. An ideal time
for the mind to wander.
Theory #2: Perhaps ERS is training
its audience to be synesthetes. You know, those people who can hear colors, taste
shapes or experience other odd sensory blendings difficult for most of us to imagine.
A synesthete might describe the color, shape, and flavor of someone's voice, or
music whose sound looks like "shards of glass," a scintillation of jagged, colored
triangles moving in the visual field. Thus, in this experiment, we are often allowed
to hear, but not see, forcing the voices or ambient sounds to conjure up images
where none seem to exist. Just a theory.
Elevator Repair Service's playful,
energetic cast -- Jonathan Feiberg, Maggie McBrien, Katherine Profeta, Charlie
Schroeder and Susie Sokol -- seem game for just about anything. "Room Tone," in
its current state, teeters between high-minded theater and messy lab experiment.
Critiquing a piece this raw is rather like judging a Bechamel sauce on the basis
of the roux. Still kind of lumpy. Best to wait til it's done simmering. Then,
perhaps, we can see more clearly where the odorless God and snippets of Italian
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