Too many plays sacrifice their magic for their ideas. Especially when stories have the potential to be "important" political or social tracts, the intention becomes less to mystify and more to proselytize, to underline the intention and give it a solemn, serious hearing. Not that such a model is necessarily a formula for insipid theatre – on the contrary, the current tendency seems to be that some of the strongest, most successful writing gets produced precisely because it is so "important."
Miranda Huba's one-woman show Candy Tastes Nice, which has been previously presented both in NYC and overseas, sounds like it's aiming for just this kind of effect. Press materials tell the story simply – a young girl decides to auction off her virginity to combat massive student loans, and in the process inspires a frenzy amongst media, politics, commerce, and even the global community. There are so many hot button issues – exploitation of women, modern warfare, unfettered capitalism, television overstimulation – in its set-up alone that one might buy a ticket just to see how Huba can fit it all in.
But take it as great praise that Candy Tastes Nice is a beguiling and enchanting piece of theatre precisely because it never really bothers to tell you what it's about. All those issues are there, of course, but the script obfuscates its themes in favor of heightened characters in a magical realist aesthetic. Years pass as the girl turns to a woman and the world riles itself in anticipation of the impending auction, and all the while, the rules of time and space as we know them seem to melt away without a comment. Huba seems more intrigued by contradictions than by conclusions, and so even when the story suggests an ideology, it simultaneously undercuts it by implying that the world is far more complicated than any ideology might suggest. The play's target is not any social construct but rather the world in its entirety, and to match that ambition, Huba does not interpret reality but rather reinvents it.
Make no mistake, the world she creates is ridiculous, but works largely because of the measured performance and assured direction. As the main character, Huba implies a degree of secrecy from her first declaration. The past tense would suggest ultimate tragedy or success, but Huba is alternately amused and indignant, in a way that belies any simple understanding. And by unironically embracing her own tendency towards swear words, Huba keeps the girl at a distance. Shannon Sindelar's assured and considered direction is crucial towards keeping the play stylized and deliberately wrought. Without her precisely paced staging, the script would often seem more akin to a psychological study, and thus might Huba's imaginative playground seem more grounded than it is. The aesthetic is also particularly alive in the red velvet lounge of Madame X, where Huba performs directly to and around an audience draped onto luxurious cushions like gluttons at a feast.
There are downsides to this magical realist approach. It's hard to get angry about the issues because our protagonist explores them with such bemusing detachment, and for that matter, she rarely resonates as a protagonist, since most of her story is more about what she observed than about what she affected. But maybe that's the idea – in a world too rocky and wild for any one idea to resonate, neither can any one person do anything but sit back and enjoy the ride. And if nothing else, Candy Tastes Nice is a ride not quite like anything else.