Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Fool and the Red Queen

the world premiere production
written by Murray Mednick
direct by Murray Mednick and Guy Zimmerman
presented by Padua Playwrights Productions

review by Phillip Kelly

I want to hit this point right out of the gate - these actors are quite good, fully committed to the material at hand, and they sell it to the best of their ability, and at times elevate the material to something of insight. The material on the other hand and handling of the material...

The Fool and the Red Queen plays at performance art, stylized theatre, not often seen in LA. It doesn't hope to capture a story, but a tone, a visceral poem, something that effects your subconscious, hypnotizes you - much like a dream, it hopes to over stimulate you with its words and visuals, creating a sort of drug like or euphoric haze until you can see its meaning hidden within. 

There are a few problems here. First, it's self-indulgent in length. If you get it, you get it. It doesn't matter how many times you approach something from the same angle or how long you spend making sure it's gotten. You get it. Someone that doesn't, won't. It's as easy as that. If you're going to write a piece like this, write it and direct for the people that will get it. To be abstract and use a hammer to present those abstractions seems unnecessary. A show like this should flow like music, and putting something in iambic pentameter doesn't mean that the play as a whole will find its rhythm. 

The show gets off on the right foot as Gary (John Diehl) comes in to audition for a couple of writer/producers; already we're entering a sort of meta-verse. These producer/writers, Chauncey (Jack Kehler) and Rondell (Gary Palmer) are lively and watching the three of them verbally fence through this audition that becomes brainstorming that turns into a script writing session is enjoyable for awhile, then it continues and keeps going. And then it keeps going well beyond the period in which we get where it's going. Everything lingers too long and because of this, nothing is a surprise, which is a mistake for any story - even if there is none. We've been given this meta-verse in which, through the video monitors, we're shown a story we have yet to see.  We understand where the second act will go.

Back to the stylization, because I feel that this is the main focus of the show. It includes video (at points effective) - some of it live. Sound effects. Lighting that symbolizes a mood as opposed to creating a reality. Some fun costumes. It's all here to create an unseen presence. So when the actors speak you get the feeling that there's much more going on than there is within the words themselves. But because of its repetitive length, it didn't reach the level of stylization I felt was necessary nor, again, did it surprise.

It's not stylized enough. Or the stylization doesn't amount to much thematically. There are so many building blocks here and none of them feel like they're being used to create the same house. When things start going deeper into the rabbit hole, the actors are directed to hardly move a muscle. The Fool (Bill Celentano) and The Red Queen (Julia Prud'homme) stand or sit and vocalize and are merely continuously frustrated with each other. The Fool literally doing back flips for the Queen to please her. The Inkeeper/Chorus (Peggy A. Blow) seems to be in on the universal joke here, winking at the audience - enjoying herself! She's otherworldly in her presence and a well informed character. And for a show that hints at being otherworldly, by the end it feels awfully pedestrian. If you're going to give me performance art, bring in movement. This show needed a choreographer; dance, some physical embodiment of the stylization found in the dialogue, which would have only made the stillness in the second half that much more profound.

By the end, I felt more drained than intrigued; more beaten than challenged. This kind of piece isn't by definition very risk-taking anymore and to truly believe that it is, you're not looking around you. This sort of meta, dream-like, poetic fantasy is part of pop culture now thanks to the likes of directors like David Lynch and Terry Gilliam and writers like Charlie Kaufman. The difference between those filmmakers and the creative talent behind The Fool and the Red Queen is that Lynch and Kaufman also set out to entertain or to show you a piece of humanity. Murray Mednick, the writer, and his co-director Guy Zimmerman, hide any level of humanity so deep within the production that we're never given a reason to truly care or be inspired through an emotional connection to really think about what's happening until the theme itself is quite literally given to us in a few lines of dialogue at the end. There will always be a need for art like this, but not just for art's sake and not just for the artist's sake. Hell, I want to be challenged! And I'm under the belief that most audience members do as well, intellectually and emotionally. For some it takes less to challenge them than others - seeing Optimus Prime being cut down might be an emotionally challenging day for someone. But to challenge people simply by making something difficult to understand or to swallow without also giving them an emotional base that connects with the intellectual design of the work, then you're really only pleasing yourself. 

The interesting thing about a show like this, while I see it needs a lot of work, someone else might see it and proclaim brilliance. And with a creator like Mednick, although I didn't connect with this piece, I may see his next show. He's out there experimenting and trying new things. You don't work in theatre for this long without having knocked it out of the park a few times and he may knock it out of the park for me. Keep experimenting!

This is a show in the Hollywood Fringe Festival. Show up early to find street parking.
May 19-June 24 
Fri and Sat at 8pm, Sun at 7pm
Where: Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood, CA 90038
How: 323-960-7740 or

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