Conform follows dysfunction
The 10 hypnotic voices of "A Place Like This" belong, you eventually realize, to a race of middle-American pod people who want to make you one of them.
By JOSHUA TANZER
Five nameless women and five nameless men gather on stage, sit down in a half-circle, and start talking. And that's all that happens in this off-kilter but intriguing play the lines are chopped up, scattered randomly among the performers, and tossed out into the semicircle. Lines overlap, each a twist on or repetition of or response to the one before it, perhaps more like the thoughts in your head than a real conversation.
Is this going somewhere, you wonder to yourself all the more after 20 or 30 minutes in
which the actors repeatedly inform the audience what they don't intend to do in the course of the play. They don't plan to provoke or challenge the audience, just entertain a little with some standard sitcom or Broadway-type fare. "Any minute now we're going to start banging out the jokes," one assures us. "Yes, any minute now we are going to start just banging out the bits," another agrees.
|A PLACE LIKE THIS|
|Written and directed by: C.J. Hopkins.|
Cast: Frederick Backus, Dan Berkey, Rachael Biernat, Nicole Higgins, Dan Hope, Frank Anthony Polito, Emmanuella Souffrant, Eva van Dok, Kate Ward, Malachi Weir.
Of course, they never get around to just banging out the jokes. This group meditation turns into a personal intervention aimed at an old friend (actually an empty chair) named "George" (who could just as well be you, the viewer) who refuses to unquestioningly accept mainstream middle-class suburban values.
At first, the use of 10 actors seems like just a gimmick to liven up what would otherwise be a
long monologue. But as the confrontation between the 10 friends and "George" develops, they begin
to look a little different, like a kind of collective unconscious, their words representing all
the common beliefs that a person inherits from the surrounding society. This effect would never
have been achieved by one actor in a monologue. Most of what we hear from the chorus of 10 is
platitudinous, sensible-sounding and fundamentally misguided, always pressuring the individual
to give up his individuality and conform to the group. And why turn your back on a life that
offers you so much a lovely house, a luxury automobile, your choice of goods at the mall?
People have so many opportunities in life, like "plastic pieces moving
across a paper board," one person says, and she means that as a good thing. "That's the freedom
we have," another adds.
After a while, the overlapping voices of "A Place Like This" begin to wash over the audience like waves onto the beach, one after another, and the hypnotic effect they create is itself part of the point of this unusual but interesting experience.
|JUNE 5, 2000|
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