I forgot how loud the Pamela Brown Auditorium can be. It gets very loud during Chuck Mee's The Glory of the World.
In the spirit of the rest of this blog, I should note that the Pamela Brown is the largest of Actors Theatre's three stages. It might be what you would call, a main stage. It looks like a normal throscenium (mostly proscenium style stage with an apron that acts as a small thrust). It's get a main floor and a balcony level and sitting under the balcony level is generally suboptimal for shows that take advantage of the full depth of the stage, which The Glory of the World does not. But the Pamela Brown isn't quite normal. There are two voms, with very steep stairs. The thrust part of throscenium is small and curved. Everything about the space is kind of angled to the world and it messes with your sense of direction. The catwalks are topsy turvy, with three or four levels that give lighting and projection designers fits. You can do a straight play in here and no one would totally notice the peculiarities of the space. Or you can do The Glory of the World and let the unease of the space slide into the surreal madness and jangling juxtapositions of noise and silence that Chuck Mee gives you in The Glory of the World.
The play appears to be set in a large garage space. Well, it's an unfinished space with a garage door. Eventually, tools appear. The action begins with a solitary figure walking onto the stage, seating himself at a small table with his back to the audience and remaining perfectly still. There are projections to guide your thoughts over a long period of time, made longer but the complete lack of movement or sound. It's a neat trick because it begins to tame the normal restlessness of the audience. The silence is so long and so deep that the audience has time to cough, rustle, swallow, sneeze, settle, and finally attempt to still themselves. And then 18 men storm the stage.
The men have little distinction, though they are all different sizes shapes and colors. And they all have different opinions on Thomas Merton. They claim to form a society honoring Merton and we quickly get that everyone has their own agenda and then, after a long game of who can quote best, two men kiss for 7 minutes while the company dances around them. Is this still about Thomas Merton? I don't know. And then the dancing stops and we get back to some conversation. In the meantime, everyone has changed costumes. We get back to quoting, pay lip service to Merton, and then the songs and choreographed displays of manhood begin.
The raucous fight that finishes the main action of the play is merely prologue to the solitary figure returning to the stage (in this case, it was Les Waters, the director of the play and the artistic director of Actors Theatre). He sits down, this time facing the audience, and we return to several long minutes of contemplating the prompts the projected texts are providing us.
I don't know anything about Thomas Merton and I suspect few in the audience did either, which makes it difficult to interpret the completely manic interludes between philosophical, quote-laden toasts to Merton, and all of his contradictions. If there is a thread there, it is a secret one, or it is alien to me at any rate, which is fine. It is a surreal play that slips between toasts and slapstick set pieces that were wildly inventive and often hilarious, if totally overwhelming, without revealing the dream logic underneath. If there are transverse connections between the scenes, I could not spot them, which left me drifting away from the play, totally unconnected to the action of it. Some people were very into it. The bows featured a third of the audience jumping to there feet instantly, a third very enthusiastic clappers, and a dutiful third rewarding the hard work the performers had just finished. Your mileage, as they say, will vary.