Voice-of-a-generation plays seem to appeal to their generations. But, boy, can they annoy the rest of us. Adam Rapp's tale of wasted lives, isolation, and drug use among the millennials probably does no less than Eugene O'Neill's and Edward Albee's did for their generations, but when we watch young lives wasted for absolutely no reason, it's all we can do not to yell at the onstage characters, "Take a shower and get a job."
With that admission, it's apparent that in this case the director and actors have done their jobs to perfection. We never doubt that the three, maybe four, young men occupying a filthy apartment are real, that they have lived in squalor and their drugged states for far too long. Director Aaron Francis takes a huge chance in allowing the piece to build slowly, in letting actors pause realistically before speaking. Once Ed Goodman, as the sped-up Staples, gets going, though, there's no stopping his fidgety, finger-snapping delivery, apparently precipitated by Staples' addition to "the pink pills." Staples can't step off the mucky sofa, which he shares with the slowed-down Scott Thewes as Chase, who is addicted to "the blue pills" and who can barely get a sentence together. Huge handfuls of these pills are hospitably served from large glass bowls. These two fancy themselves musicians; band practice must be a work of the imagination, however. Joe Jordan plays the violent, masochistic Lynch, taking delight in the pencil stuck through his foot. Michael Hampton's Speed lies on the floor throughout the play, rising only to pee against the living-room wall. Brandon Clark is the even lonelier nerdy neighbor. And Maggie Marion plays an 11-year-old girl who thinks she can change men just by coming up to their apartments and giving them hugs. Ouch.
Actors throw themselves physically into the work: Marion roller-skates into the coffee table and falls hard on her rump. Tiny directorial touches add hugely to the production: An empty chips bag carefully placed in front of an armchair crackles revoltingly when an actor steps on it to be seated. That the band comes together in the penultimate moment--a fantasy scene showing either the "what if" or the "has been" of this group--is breath-catchingly tender; it seems unfair that these actors also have musical skills.
But somehow some of us are left humming, "What's the matter with kids today?"
Dude, Where's My Life?
"I think of doing stuff sometimes? But I get tired."
To the unschooled ear this cri de coeur may sound like a California
translation of French ennui, but those familiar with the sentiment will
recognize it as a universal expression of dudespeak. This is the
Esperanto of stoners, surfers, skateboarders and, in Adam Rapp's play Finer
Noble Gases, of a pair of erstwhile musicians glued to a couch that
is parked in front of a TV. It is a wintry night in New York's East
Village, and Staples (Ed Goodman) and Chase (Scott Thewes) are frying on
pills - specifically, from the three bowls of blues, pinks and yellows
that sit on a table before them. We don't know much about these, except
that the yellow ones are called pissers and all three pills are mighty
powerful. Ask their roommate Speed (Michael Hampton), who lies
glassy-eyed on the floor in his underpants, arms outstretched, a
Like Vladimir and Estragon (or, if you will, inert gases), Staples and
Chase are rooted to one locale by their own choice, but are periodically
visited by others. Lynch (Joe Jordan) is the more mobile of the four
roommates, a brooding mountain man who looks more like he stepped in
from a Norwegian folktale than off the F train. His foot is slowly going
numb, but he still kicks in the TV on a whim. This creates what
dramaturges like to call a "turning point" - a crisis that
forces Staples and Chase, who have been languidly speaking in juvenile
non sequiturs, to make decisions that will bring another TV to them.
Their most immediate opportunity arrives in the form of Grey (Brandon
Clark), a downstairs neighbor, who, in his Hush Puppies and brown suit,
looks like Webster's definition of "square" and ripe for the
robbing - even as he maintains a collection of throwing knives and the
belief that he is some kind of secret agent. Later, the peripatetic
Lynch brings home Dot (Maggie Marion), a waifish 11-year-old who's been
left alone in a park and only moves about on roller skates.
Visually, Finer Noble Gases is familiar terrain - a
frat-boy apartment landscape of moldy dishes and pyramided beer cans.
This, combined with a drug-addled, Furry Freak Brothers worldview and
Spicoli-inflected dialogue, presents the kind of bohemian send-up that
pop culture has gleefully indulged in since TV took aim at beatniks. The
dudespeak can get a bit thick at times - if, say, a character announces
he's been in a nearby park, another needlessly clarifies by saying,
"As in, the park park?")
However, playwright Rapp, whose haunting meditation on guilt, Nocturne,
played at the Black Dahlia Theater last year, merely uses this
grungy milieu as a backdrop. His story, when you push away the sight
gags and his characters' slack-jawed sophistry, is really a sad eulogy
for the dreams of youth. For Staples, Chase, Speed and Lynch were once
all part of a rock band. They still have their instruments, which,
huddled in a corner, silently mock their owners - near play's end, the
men "rewind" and replay a moment from the past when they were
lucid and playing their guitars and drums.
We never know what went wrong with the quartet to bring them to their
near-catatonic state, but suspect that too much success didn't play a
role. Perhaps the drugs brought them down, or maybe those bowls of pills
came after the fall. Regardless, complaints of amnesia abound (Staples:
"I used to . . . know a lot more stuff") along with
confessions that the men feel they are turning into robots. Such
feelings describe, though don't explain, their increasing detachment
from the outside world. Staples and Chase, the two main characters, seem
isolated even within their tiny apartment, marooned on the couch which
they are loath to ever leave.
Director Aaron Francis works magic with a solid ensemble; even the
smaller parts of Marion's doll-like Dot and Clark's frazzled Grey
command our voyeuristic attention when Rapp focuses on them. My one
quibble with this Sacred Fools production is that Rapp's dialogue for
Staples and Chase is clearly written for characters younger than Goodman
and Thewes, who simply cannot pass for the kind of kids - even burnt out
as they may be - that their naive conversation marks them for. (There is
no way Staples' and Chase's wide-eyed wonder about the most ordinary
things would survive past their 20s.) Still, Goodman and Thewes are the
soul of this production, and few moments in recent theater have been
funnier than their efforts to re-orient their tattered couch toward a
new TV - with Goodman straining to stand on the floor while Thewes
"helps" by trying to levitate off the sofa whenever his friend