WET Gets Dusty with The Museum Play
Jordan Harrison’s The Museum Play (receiving its world premiere at Washington Ensemble Theatre) is as brief as its title is cursory. The concept is also bare bones: At a dusty museum—of natural history, it appears—exhibits are being liberated. An Archaeopteryx egg has disappeared. The mastodon skeleton has fled. Lead curator Jame (the waxy Marc Kenison) casts about frantically for a replacement, settling on his erstwhile boyfriend Vin (Lathrop Walker, excellent), who recently left him for the rather more fertile loins of Lila (Elise Hunt, terribly attractive in that white-bread way). Thanks to modern science, Vin and his sexy cheekbones are perfectly preserved behind a velvet rope, an automaton condemned to rehearse one-sided dialogues from the history of his relationship with Jame—the night they met, the day they broke up—over and over again.
The setting is a museum and the subject is the human urge to catalog, an urge perpetrated on exotic fauna and personal memories alike. An inventively literal elaboration of Yeats’s “rag and bone shop of the heart,” quite probably informed by Derrida’s Archive Fever and who knows how many other influences, The Museum Play is full of ideas, but it’s a little short on flesh. Tiny scenes pile up on one another, jerking your attention from one side of the small stage (narrow museum “cabinets”) to the other (a diminutive bedroom turned museum exhibit). The subplot about a guard who was raised inside the museum walls never feels as creepy as it ought to, thanks to an unpolished performance by Patricia Nelson and the delightfully crammed but not particularly atmospheric set. Director Marya Sea Kaminski (along with set designer Jennifer Zeyl) stages the action with a number of smart devices, but I was left wishing that the play could have gotten the bells-and-whistles treatment from the Seattle Rep, with a rotating stage so huge you could get lost in it, where the audience would ooh at every new corridor packed with bell jars and desiccation.
As it is, the play is more of a curiosity, a chance to hear some lovely, witty dialogue and one indulgent, simile-ridden soliloquy. There’s the usual declamatory performance by Mikado Fukaya Feeney and a drop-dead hilarious guest appearance by Michael Brill as a Bermuda shorts–clad old man. The Museum Play is new, and it’s short, and it’s certainly worth seeing—if only for the truly unsettling gallery show currently mounted in the lobby. (Which involves a lot of human hair and a “curtain” of used soap from motels on Aurora Avenue.)