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Flash Review 2, 5-23: Fired up and let down
Mee's "Fire Island" can't get started

By Alison D'Amato
Copyright 2008 Alison D'Amato

NEW YORK -- I was determined to have a good time at "Fire Island," the new work created by playwright Charles Mee and presented by 3 Legged-Dog media and theater group in Lower Manhattan. Seeing the show on May 1, two days before the end of its run, I had ample time to read other reviews and hear secondhand that the "multidimensional beach party!," as the show is sub-titled, was a sprawling and somewhat incoherent spectacle. I was prepared to let it wash over me, though, knowing that the experience wasn't going to be neatly framed and traditionally packaged.

Walking into 3LD was an event in itself. The front doors open into a stark white, spaceship-like hallway that doesn't necessarily evoke a hedonistic beach party. But once I was inside the performance space, whimsical summery touches were everywhere. Audience members sprawled on blankets and beach chairs, a hot dog cart supplied food for a pre-show barbecue and big buckets were filled with ice and bottles of beer. The "Fire Island" team was pretty aggressively committed to its audience enjoying themselves. I must have had a tentative look in my face, because a woman in a short pink dress approached and said "Go ahead! Sit anywhere. There's beer in the buckets, wine on the table over there, and I think the food cart is still serving." I asked if the drinks were by donation. "No, no! Everything's totally free!" Since when have you been treated that well at the theater?

Once settled into beach chairs with our beers, my boyfriend and I took in the atmosphere more fully. Elements of the performance surrounded us on all sides. On two of the cavernous room's walls, huge video monitors projected images of rippling waves and a dewy spider web. The band (including a Tuvan throat singer and a bassist wearing a Speedo, a wig and a Japanese silk robe) warmed up in a corner. A funny-scary clown with a septum ring poked into his round nose scampered through the crowd, juggling and chatting with people. A half-naked woman prowled around with a menacingly pointed kitchen knife. It was easy to fall into a comfortable engagement with the three-dimensional world that enveloped us, and after a few minutes, my boyfriend looked over at me and said, "Nothing even needs to happen. I could be pretty happy just sitting here and drinking beer." And that, in the end, is the singular problem with "Fire Island." Once things started "happening," I managed to feel both grandly over-stimulated and slightly bored.

The cast worked among its audience throughout, and traveled mostly in pairs; romantic relationships were initiated, reveled in, brought to an end and rehashed. Mee seems interminably invested in love and the moments of intimate dysfunction to which it drives people. His treatment of matters of the heart reminds me a little of that bird that keeps bashing into a window, not realizing its never going to sail through empty space. One conversation between the knife-wielding woman and her estranged lover revolves around her incapacity to simply be loved. When he's not there she wants him, but when he is, she doesn't. The language seemed to be a carbon copy of a passage from Mee's "Wintertime," one which had always particularly stuck with me: "So I have to behave backwards:/if I love you I have to reject you,/and if I don't love you I should seem to love you,/so that I have to live an opposite life/and I can never show you the love I really feel for you/because if I do, I will lose you,/and this is what people call crazy/and if you do it and do it over and over and over/you become crazy." It's insightful, and in "Wintertime" it was funny, but how many different ways need one really pose this question?

"Fire Island"'s actors are not so much characters as embodied polemics, and in that respect, the multi-dimensionality of the piece works at cross purposes. Quite often, as an actor speaks, one or more of the gigantic video screens that surround the action displays that same actor speaking a similar passage. This kaleidoscopic effect fragments the language to a point of no return: we certainly aren't equipped to mull over the motivation behind a person's words if we can barely distinguish those words in the first place. Friendliness, hard work and free beer are fine, but an audience needs more. Multi-dimensionality is fine, but I found myself desperate for even a single moment of coherence. It seems ridiculously simple but may have made all the difference if, even just once, all of our eyes and ears had been guided to the same place at the same time.

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