Dec 13, 2012 dsokal commented on The Believers: Experimental-Theater Fail.
Here is a letter I wrote to Jim, the playwright, after seeing the play. I've never been able to get this letter to him:

Hi Jim,

I saw the production of your play at The Annex Theater last night. It was fantastic. Last night I decided to go out and see what was happening, stopped at The Annex, saw the door was open and went up the stairs. I spoke to the young man selling tickets.

Yes there is a play tonight.
What’s it about?
Hard to describe, very philosophical.
People sitting around talking, not much interaction, not much of plot?
Yes, but there is some character interaction.
Sounds good to me.

I disagree that there is only some character interaction. I found the interaction intense, dramatic and actually very meaningful.

I read the reviews on the Flaneur Productions website. It doesn’t surprise me how different each of them is. The use of absurdist dialog leaves much to audience interpretation. Perhaps that is why the young man didn’t see much character interaction. He was too caught up in the language and not seeing the disconnected statements and responses as a form of dance between the interacting characters.

The actors were younger and with short resumes but did an incredibly good job I felt. Some of the roles were actually multiple roles, or characters with shifting personalities: in particular one female that starts off as a mysteriously lit face in a window then becomes the menacing, hostile voice of — not really sure what — perhaps parental disapproval?, societal censure?; but — unlike the shouting, militaristic and somewhat sadistic “director” female who orders people around the stage — more sinister than dictatorial. Later she becomes a pseudo religious figure. When she comes out from behind the screen, she is now a somewhat egocentric, proper, controlled, but rather mild and gently smiling and apparently misanthropic woman (according to another character) that seems to engender a strong hostility in one of the male characters who harangues and challenges her. She actually shows some vulnerability under his assault, and perhaps a hidden erotic side as she unwittingly collaborates in the play’s most hysterical moment posing for other characters that have discovered how easily just about any object can become a source of pornographic ecstasy. She switches one more time towards the end when she becomes a condescending, maternal character and even her accent shifts somewhat to fit this final role.

I don’t know if all this detail was called for in the script or was the interpretation of this production crew. In any case, it was mind-bogglingly complex and wonderful.

I noticed in one review that the play starts off with a man turning a light off and on. I don’t recall this version starting off that way at all. Have you done some re-writing, or did they make these changes?

The theater building is a perfect setting for the play, an old brick building (probably not of historical significance) with a Kafkaesque feel to it. The set design was sparse and yet complex enough to keep visual interest throughout. The use of the four screened windows with the strange yellowish lighting on the faces of the actors was a visually interesting and dramatically powerful device. Especially in the scene where all four windows are occupied and one of the characters stands staring menacingly out the window. He is wearing or holding a cross and a globe shaped object (something to do with Catholicism I presume?) and mechanically cycles through these mysterious hand motions with the objects throughout the scene, occasionally angrily shouting out a line or two in response to the other three.

The absurd dialog is very entertaining, lively, challenging and humorous. I couldn’t laugh as loud as I would have liked given the quiet, small audience. Of course, my inhibition was illustrative of one of the themes of the play: fear of others.

The insulting narrator (I guess you could call him “narrator” even though he doesn’t narrate anything as there is nothing to narrate) that directs his attention to us is quite a well-balanced version of the attack-the-audience element common in absurdist theater. He subtly chides us with an almost opaque sarcasm, conveying a double-message of “you are wonderful and you are scum”. I felt he was at his best when he turns his back, the lights go off and we are left in silence for an easily tolerated but effective 10 to 15 seconds of silence.

I think the actors had a lot of fun with this performance. Given that there is no story, their characters are vague and shifting, I find this amazing. Certainly a lot of it is in the challenging, humorous and richly textured absurd language.

Given that most of what was said was nonsensical, I was also impressed by how easily I could follow the conversation. I think you write with very clear and distinct sentence structure, common and accessible vocabulary and perhaps manage the degree of absurdity, keeping it just on the edge of complete nonsense, in such a way as to make the logic of each statement very clear. This logic of course is only internal. It is disconnected and absurd in the context of the dialog.

There are so many layers of meaning and possible interpretations of this work that I won’t even try to delve into all of them. I couldn’t do an adequate job anyway. My interpretation may surprise you. I believe this is a story about the relationships of three couples that ultimately are loving and satisfying.

There is the woman who is full of anxiety and despair that she makes little effort to hide, and her male companion who has similar tendencies, but masks them a little better. He is somewhat of an artist in my mind (when he frames her in his camera he sees the background, but when she disappears from the frame he seems lost).

There is the couple wondering if they are in a movie. The woman is a Hollywood enthusiast, but he is more inquisitive, trying to figure out what the “director” is up to. She actually seems to support him in this effort. They go through a number of personality changes, especially the man (he is the one that later becomes the mysterious religious figure manipulating the Catholic liturgical implements). In her effort to be a part of “them” she ends up behind the scrim, but fails to live up to expectations as her more down-to-earth nature is an obstacle to being one of this clique of controllers and know-it-all, paranoid, nonsense spouters. Finally, after all these trials and tribulations he holds a picture up to her and, as if questioning a witness in a trial, asks, “what do you see in this picture”. For the first time we see someone become lost in the dream, the nostalgia, the story, that has been skirted about through the whole play. She sees meadows and trees and, most importantly, a strong-boned woman whom she falls in love with. He looks at her with empathy.

The third couple is the woman I described earlier as a prime example of shifting character, and a man who plays the least important role of all and doesn’t register very strongly in my mind. He does deliver one line that sticks in my mind. It is the only example in the play of language that is overly complex, pseudo intellectual, heavy-laden with opaque vocabulary and spoken at a speed which made it impossible for me to follow, providing a humorous contrast to the rest of the dialog and engendering a feeling of gratitude that we didn't have to sit through 75 minutes of the same.

So in my naïve and romantic fashion, this is a love story. The most basic story of all in a play that questions our need for and dependence on story. Stunning really. Thank you for this wonderful experience.

David Sokal
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Dec 13, 2012 dsokal joined My Stranger Face
Dec 13, 2012 dsokal commented on The Believers: Experimental-Theater Fail.
Here is a letter I wrote to Jim, the playwright, after seeing the play. I've never been able to get this letter to him:

Hi Jim,

I saw the production of your play at The Annex Theater last night. It was fantastic. Last night I decided to go out and see what was happening, stopped at The Annex, saw the door was open and went up the stairs. I spoke to the young man selling tickets.

Yes there is a play tonight.
What’s it about?
Hard to describe, very philosophical.
People sitting around talking, not much interaction, not much of plot?
Yes, but there is some character interaction.
Sounds good to me.

I disagree that there is only some character interaction. I found the interaction intense, dramatic and actually very meaningful.

I read the reviews on the Flaneur Productions website. It doesn’t surprise me how different each of them is. The use of absurdist dialog leaves much to audience interpretation. Perhaps that is why the young man didn’t see much character interaction. He was too caught up in the language and not seeing the disconnected statements and responses as a form of dance between the interacting characters.

The actors were younger and with short resumes but did an incredibly good job I felt. Some of the roles were actually multiple roles, or characters with shifting personalities: in particular one female that starts off as a mysteriously lit face in a window then becomes the menacing, hostile voice of — not really sure what — perhaps parental disapproval?, societal censure?; but — unlike the shouting, militaristic and somewhat sadistic “director” female who orders people around the stage — more sinister than dictatorial. Later she becomes a pseudo religious figure. When she comes out from behind the screen, she is now a somewhat egocentric, proper, controlled, but rather mild and gently smiling and apparently misanthropic woman (according to another character) that seems to engender a strong hostility in one of the male characters who harangues and challenges her. She actually shows some vulnerability under his assault, and perhaps a hidden erotic side as she unwittingly collaborates in the play’s most hysterical moment posing for other characters that have discovered how easily just about any object can become a source of pornographic ecstasy. She switches one more time towards the end when she becomes a condescending, maternal character and even her accent shifts somewhat to fit this final role.

I don’t know if all this detail was called for in the script or was the interpretation of this production crew. In any case, it was mind-bogglingly complex and wonderful.

I noticed in one review that the play starts off with a man turning a light off and on. I don’t recall this version starting off that way at all. Have you done some re-writing, or did they make these changes?

The theater building is a perfect setting for the play, an old brick building (probably not of historical significance) with a Kafkaesque feel to it. The set design was sparse and yet complex enough to keep visual interest throughout. The use of the four screened windows with the strange yellowish lighting on the faces of the actors was a visually interesting and dramatically powerful device. Especially in the scene where all four windows are occupied and one of the characters stands staring menacingly out the window. He is wearing or holding a cross and a globe shaped object (something to do with Catholicism I presume?) and mechanically cycles through these mysterious hand motions with the objects throughout the scene, occasionally angrily shouting out a line or two in response to the other three.

The absurd dialog is very entertaining, lively, challenging and humorous. I couldn’t laugh as loud as I would have liked given the quiet, small audience. Of course, my inhibition was illustrative of one of the themes of the play: fear of others.

The insulting narrator (I guess you could call him “narrator” even though he doesn’t narrate anything as there is nothing to narrate) that directs his attention to us is quite a well-balanced version of the attack-the-audience element common in absurdist theater. He subtly chides us with an almost opaque sarcasm, conveying a double-message of “you are wonderful and you are scum”. I felt he was at his best when he turns his back, the lights go off and we are left in silence for an easily tolerated but effective 10 to 15 seconds of silence.

I think the actors had a lot of fun with this performance. Given that there is no story, their characters are vague and shifting, I find this amazing. Certainly a lot of it is in the challenging, humorous and richly textured absurd language.

Given that most of what was said was nonsensical, I was also impressed by how easily I could follow the conversation. I think you write with very clear and distinct sentence structure, common and accessible vocabulary and perhaps manage the degree of absurdity, keeping it just on the edge of complete nonsense, in such a way as to make the logic of each statement very clear. This logic of course is only internal. It is disconnected and absurd in the context of the dialog.

There are so many layers of meaning and possible interpretations of this work that I won’t even try to delve into all of them. I couldn’t do an adequate job anyway. My interpretation may surprise you. I believe this is a story about the relationships of three couples that ultimately are loving and satisfying.

There is the woman who is full of anxiety and despair that she makes little effort to hide, and her male companion who has similar tendencies, but masks them a little better. He is somewhat of an artist in my mind (when he frames her in his camera he sees the background, but when she disappears from the frame he seems lost).

There is the couple wondering if they are in a movie. The woman is a Hollywood enthusiast, but he is more inquisitive, trying to figure out what the “director” is up to. She actually seems to support him in this effort. They go through a number of personality changes, especially the man (he is the one that later becomes the mysterious religious figure manipulating the Catholic liturgical implements). In her effort to be a part of “them” she ends up behind the scrim, but fails to live up to expectations as her more down-to-earth nature is an obstacle to being one of this clique of controllers and know-it-all, paranoid, nonsense spouters. Finally, after all these trials and tribulations he holds a picture up to her and, as if questioning a witness in a trial, asks, “what do you see in this picture”. For the first time we see someone become lost in the dream, the nostalgia, the story, that has been skirted about through the whole play. She sees meadows and trees and, most importantly, a strong-boned woman whom she falls in love with. He looks at her with empathy.

The third couple is the woman I described earlier as a prime example of shifting character, and a man who plays the least important role of all and doesn’t register very strongly in my mind. He does deliver one line that sticks in my mind. It is the only example in the play of language that is overly complex, pseudo intellectual, heavy-laden with opaque vocabulary and spoken at a speed which made it impossible for me to follow, providing a humorous contrast to the rest of the dialog and engendering a feeling of gratitude that we didn't have to sit through 75 minutes of the same.

So in my naïve and romantic fashion, this is a love story. The most basic story of all in a play that questions our need for and dependence on story. Stunning really. Thank you for this wonderful experience.

David Sokal
More...