Victor Frange Presents Gas
nytheatre.com review by Adam R. Burnett
August 26, 2012
Bryce Culter and Patrick Rizzotti's impressive scenic design currently on display at the Incubator Arts Project brings to mind its infamous former resident, Richard Foreman—the wires suspended above the audience performing as haunts from the Ontological Hysteric's past. This may be an intentional and playful nod, but I was never fully convinced of this; and this lack of conviction is the core problem in Victor Frange Presents GAS, a cheerful exercise in metatheatricality which plays through August 31.
In the play, Victor Frange, a first-time producer, attempts to recreate an adaptation of George Kaiser's 1918 German expressionist play Gas 1 as interpreted by his Uncle Terry's ultimately unsuccessful 1960s collaborative theatre company Generator Generation. Frange hires a group of actors and equips them with Generator's cast log from the original production and lets them loose with the only explicit directive that they must power the show with self-sustaining energy sources. The actors, as they are wont to do, seem intent on adhering to the original company's methodology, right down to free love practices and Bacchic skinny-dipping romps. The play alternates between sequences riffing on Kaiser's original play and interviews with the actors.
GAS chiefly concerns itself with the topics of energy and renewable sources, lightly tromping on the philosophy of German playwright Kaiser. The politicization of these topics takes a back seat to commentary on the wasted energy and lack of efficiency in creating art, as in: Why do we spend our time making theatre? Why do we break our backs and wallets to build a set that will be torn down in two weeks? And why does theatre feel more and more like just a "tax break"? These are all good questions with potentially profound answers. If GAS answers these questions it does so simply by existing, which is a fascinating result in of itself.
Not for a lack of trying—the production and performances are energetic, diverting, and silly—but I was never convinced that the performers were complicit with each other or with the director, nor the director with the writer. This left me skeptical throughout, parsing out the intentional and the coincidental. And as appropriate as this felt for a piece that partially comments on the act of collaborative art making, I had to discount it. For along with scenic designers Cutler and Rizzotti, video designer Bruce Cortright and lighting designer Ken Wills leave an undeniable mark of intention with a continuously engaged stage.
The creator's of GAS are no doubt intelligent and talented; however, the play ultimately disappears into its own metatheatricality, which performs at an unbridled peak, obscuring much of the depth and clarity they might have originally sought. The play is eventually hijacked by the actors who resort to roles of superheroes, for if the energy crisis will finally be the death of us all (e.g., we're all going to get cancer!), then it is only fitting that the climax in contemporary drama always results in a team of mutant superheroes saving the day. For better or worse, this is our answer to the Generator Generation's generation.