ADVERTISING AT CURTAINUP
Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp Review
Inspired by McLuhan's work, the artist collaborative Waterwell has created a performance piece titled #9, although it certainly isn't clear why the company chose this name. It was written by Hannah Cheek, Kevin Townley, Tom Ridgeley (who also directs), Rodney Gardiner and Arian Moayed, and comes across as exactly what one would expect from a bunch of young, exuberant, mostly inexperienced writers trying to make big waves in the small world of theater: chaotic, sophomoric and hip. It most definitely has an audience.
#9 starts well enough. There are even clearly defined characters with set goals. Hanna (Hanna Cheek) wants to establish herself in the digital world. Matt (Matt Dellapina) has just found out his girlfriend is pregnant and wants to learn what it takes to be a good father. Kevin (Kevin Townley) is a gay man looking for a lover. David (David Ryan Smith) is worried about his family caught in a Caribbean hurricane. However, about halfway into the piece the writers seemed to have been having so much fun that they forgot what they were originally writing about. All that's left is a vague commentary on the pitfalls and possibilities of the technological age (the audience is encouraged to twitter comments throughout).
As #9 progresses the ensemble cast plays supporting characters — news commentators, McLuhan himself, and various characters they've met electronically. It's hard to imagine how those without access to a script can figure out who is who.
The best part of the evening are the songs composed by Lauren Gregor. The upbeat score combines rock, country, blues, even Eastern-inflected music in an original and engaging way. Cheek gives some sexy twists and turns as she vamps to a few numbers, and Townley is an excellent Elvis impersonator. Smith brings the audience happily back to the days when soul ruled the way rap does today. As to why are there songs at all in this production and what music's function is in the technological world— Waterwell apparently doesn't believe it was necessary to addressr these questions.
Nick Benacerraf's high tech set certainly does justice to the theme. There are plenty of flashing lights, and cameras take simultaneous videos of the performers' actions on stage. There are even a few moments that may mean something, as when one character takes a picture of a dead body with his cell phone. But for the most part the effort to figure out what's going on in #9 is unrewarding and perhaps unnecessary.
Experimental theater is a fine way to expand our concept of what can be put on stage. But breaking rules for shock value or personal gratification in the name of experimentation can have dubious results. Somehow one wishes someone had come in during the fraternity party and said, "No more booze guys; let's get to work."