Annex Theatre is probably the best place to perform a Scotto Moore play. The venue’s advantage is to be found in the way it is accessed. You begin on the street—which on a weekend night is very lively—enter the building, climb two flights of rather close stairs, walk through a narrow passage, and enter the main space. The ceiling is low, the sounds from the street are muffled in the way the sounds of the outside world are muffled in a mind preoccupied with its thoughts; the lights go out, the play begins, the audience watches the stuff of dreams. We are upstairs, in the head of a building—a being made of wood, bricks, and glass. It is the perfect place for the new and heady comedy Duel of the Linguist Mages.
This play (the third I have seen by Moore at Annex) concerns a 21st-century PR firm that has developed a technology to crack open the secret code of language. The technology instigates a power struggle between those who want to control the world (a politician played by Beth Peterson and a product manager played by Jen Moon) and those who want the world to remain as it is (the firm’s CEO played by Curtis Eastwood and a researcher played by Sara Mountjoy-Pepka). The narrator, played by James Weidman, is a software engineer caught in the middle of this battle for humanity’s soul. His fate is revealed in the second half of Duel, which takes place in an intellectual ether of floating signifiers and ghostly punctuation marks. The disembodied narrator leads us deeper and deeper into a plot that can never be resolved.
As a big fan of Moore’s play interlace [falling star], it’s easy for me to point out exactly what’s missing from this otherwise solid effort: poetry. It needs much more poetry, particularly during the second act. The first part of the play happens at the level of the story—meat, wetware, flesh and bones. The second part slips into the thin and heady realm of pure signifiers. During this part, Moore should have relaxed and rewarded us with the pleasures of the text, the pleasures of a drifting language, a poetry that alters shape with the ease of ink in zero gravity. Instead, he fastens the language to the project of solving the impossible problems of language, power, mind, and body. The play ends in darkness—and this is perfect. Life ends when the lights go out in the head.