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A CurtainUp Review
The Joys of Fantasy
Mitchell Polin's new play which is currently running at Twelve21, is supposed to be a remixing of Thornton Wilder's Our Town. It is, in fact, mostly a lot of adolescent navel-gazing.
In an utterly surreal pre-show segment we see two bodies laying dead on the floor. We hear sound clips of dialogue masked by other sounds wafting through the air. To increase the sensory overload, we are confronted with 2 giant screens, one dominating the back wall of the performing space and another covering the left stage wall, each showing images of women. But hold on, there are more bizarre things ahead to make you eye the exit. The entire stage is flooded by light bulbs fixed on tall chrome poles. A Brechtian touch, to be sure, but it merely exposes the disjointedness of this pre-show bagatelle.
In all fairness, The Ordinary Theater's trademark is non-narrative drama, and the collage style here is supposed to be paced and structured like a television remote control. Even so in developing this particular work, originality gives way to merely channel surfing through Our Town.
There are so many liberties taken with Wilder's classic, that the company actually had problems with producing Polin's play. The scribe literally notes this experience in the evolved version of his work: "This play used to be called Our Town Revisited, but then we were almost sued." Ironically, this is Polin's most interesting line since it diagnoses precisely why the work doesn't coalesce: Instead of revisiting Wilder's masterpiece, The Joys of Fantasy only gives it lipservice.
As far as the characters, only the narrator Claire seems intact in her skin. Kim, Caroline, Michael, Teri, and Scott come off as ersatz characters. Teri and Scott are fuzzily-conceived counterparts to Emily and George in Our Town. Unfortunately, their romantic relationship is so pathological (Teri vanishes down a well, and is strangely revives to love again) that it's not worth following. The punk-like character Michael injects an ominous atmosphere (and murder) into the piece. Caroline, who confides that she has an oral fixation, seems like a totally superfluous character.
. Polin's most conspicuous point of departure from Our Town is that he sets his play in New York City. No doubt this is intended to inject frisson into the remix of Wilder's play, but its a faux sophistication. Polin, who also directs, seems to forget that asimplicity and basic human warmth can go far in a play whether old-fashioned, new or newly conceived.
Modernizing classics is a slippery undertaking. Mitchell Polin and the Ordinary Theater have not managed to keep from slipping with this production.
Try onlineseats.com for great seats to
The Little Mermaid
Shrek The Musical
In the Heights
Playbill 2007-08 Yearbook
Leonard Maltin's 2008 Movie Guide