Sunday, August 23, 2009

On FringeNYC - installment 3

A review of The Event, but first a story ...

Two summers ago I interned at New York Musical Theatre Festival. My job description was nebulous, and sometimes I got the chance to work for our executive director and founder, Kris Stewart. But because interns are at the low end of the totem pole, here and there, he’d ask me to execute small, seemingly innocuous tasks—run down to Subway to pick up his lunch and a diet coke, or walk his blind, seriously-separation-anxiety-prone pooch. If I looked in the least bit not-thrilled by any of this, he’d wink at me and say, “You’re a legend, Laura Hedli, and don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.” Might I add that he has an Australian accent.

And thus began my fascination with festival directors and how they work their magic to get people to do things they might otherwise never willingly submit to. But more than that, they have a knack for making people believe in the power of live theater.

I am reminded of my experiences at New York Musical Theatre Festival when I sit down at The Event, notebook in hand, on Wednesday night. So, you’ll have to excuse me if I find all the gloom and doom curious given its playwright.

Founding artistic director of the Fringe, John Clancy, wrote the 63 minute script, and with his words he works a different sort of magic. In the witching hour where the house is dark save for a plainly lit stage and a single man in a standard suit, he casts a spell of disenchantment. A play is nothing more than a string of rehearsed lines, the faint glow of the footlights can be achieved with the press of a button, and the entire experience is expendable to us and to its creators when the curtain falls.

But that doesn’t mean it’s any less engaging. In being so intricately connected to his craft—having played both administrative and creative roles—Clancy recognizes the strengths and limitations of this art form and draws analogies to real life. The Event tells us that we’re living a “high stakes game of charades” where we’re “good actors in a very bad play.” If our ancestors are retired actors watching our performance, they’re neither amused nor applauding.

The Event’s backstage account is by no means glowing with glitter and showgirls. Instead, a single actor, Matt Oberg—who is responsible for plowing through the challenging just-over-an-hour monologue—says that we’re sitting here due to “chance and advertising.” He invites anyone who wants to leave to do so. And for anyone who feels compelled to use this time to sleep, he sings a rendition of “Rock-a-bye-Baby.”

The words that follow achieve a sort of lulling effect, and I only start to squirm in my seat when Oberg pretends to forget his lines. It’s part of the play, of course, but still produces the effect of watching a nerdy boy wring his clammy hands, feet pacing back and forth as he tries to get through public speaking class unnoticed and unscathed. The only other moment when I emerge from my hunched position are to watch the man in front of me who is actually sleeping, head back, mouth gaping open ready to catch those flies. He’s sitting in the second row. Bold move. He doesn’t snore, but does that head bobbing thing on the words “exhausting” and “connection.” Innnnteresting.

Though, near minute 35, The Event does seem to lose some of its spark. Clancy ditches the sarcasm and theater-insider speak, and instead resorts to telling us what we know. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still impeccably well written. But as the sweat drips from Oberg’s face as he discusses the nature of a cliché or how we have a need for speed, he seems to be wasting his breath on stating the obvious.

The Event works best when it’s self-referential. Clancy lives theater, and when he writes about what he knows the results range from incisive humor to heartbreaking realities. He gives us a backstage look, but seems to suggest that there really isn’t very much there to see. It’s like one giant wink to the audience that says theater is transient, and don’t you ever forget it.

The Event plays tonight at 11 PM at the Players Theatre. The final performance will be on Fri 28 @ 6 PM. The Players Theatre is located at 115 MacDougal St.

The Event is written and directed by John Clancy and stars Matt Oberg. Tickets are $15. Please visit for more information.

No comments:

Post a Comment