nytheatre.com review by David Ian Lee
March 14, 2009
Late in Bone Orchard's Times 365:24:7, currently playing at The Brick Theatre, an effusive weather reporter's stand-up degrades into the kind of doublespeak-gibberish to be found in Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky." It is a poignant and powerful moment, and articulates brilliantly one of the overriding themes of the piece: The modern media cycle is full of sound and fury, but ultimately signifies...what, exactly?
Unfortunately, such is also the problem with much of Times 365:24:7. Though impassioned and obviously well-studied, the creative forces behind the work seem uncertain about what the narrative drive and focus of the show should be. Is the 24-hour news cycle a many-headed hydra comprised of demagogues and power mongers, or are the denizens of press pools and broadcast booths well-intentioned souls doing their best to serve the purpose of the Fourth Estate?
Times 365:24:7 bears the creative stamp not of a playwright but of a team of "devisors." Indeed, the company is credited equally with conceiving and, presumably, constructing the show; Anna G. Jones directs. Though such a communal approach adds to the scope of the piece, the structure and content are wildly uneven. Certain scenes are chillingly scripted; others seem semi-improvisational and cluttered with mushy, half-heard dialogue. Some characters—including a grieving couple from the Midwest and a conservative radio host in the model of Rush Limbaugh—are exquisitely drawn; others seem erratic and irrational in their behavior, clumsy in their language, and broad in their portrayal.
Such is not to say that Times 365:24:7 is not engaging or, at times, impressive theatre. Bone Orchard has tackled a bilious swath of a topic, and the two-hour production makes inventive use of theatrical device and convention to transport the audience from news rooms to crime scenes to battlefield operating rooms. There is much to appreciate about the presentation, including the disconcerting way images and headlines from actual news stories are projected onto the set and performers, the effective use of live music (Leslie Graves on acoustic guitar), or the devilish way conceptions of self and theatrical reality are upended by having audience members enter the theatre across a semi-populated playing space. There are many good ideas on display in Times 365:24:7, and given clearer structural consistency (or the hand and eye of a deft editor) the production could easily excel.
The company of Times 365:24:7—a cast of nine—play dozens of roles. Standouts include Stephanie Bratnick and Gardiner Comfort as the aforementioned anguished couple and Brian Farish as the weatherman and radio host. Jason Fleitz offers a moving and nuanced performance as an emotionally conflicted freelance journalist, and Maggie Surovell is lovely as a blogger attempting to shield her daughter from the underside of online media. Often, however, the playing styles and character portraits seem drawn from different worlds altogether; by the time Jim Cramer appears as a character and a seemingly mentally disturbed CNN anchorwoman shows up, the audience may do well to wonder what play they belong to.
In the final moments of Times 365:24:7, the show tips its hand, revealing that behind the high aspirations and lofty concepts, a binding thread is woven no tighter than a literal cacophony of noise; the ensemble thrash about the stage, destroying set pieces, shrieking and groaning, as the sound system squelches white noise. As actresses rended their clothing and actors hurled themselves at the walls of The Brick Theatre, I disappointedly suspected that all that had come before was naught but sound and fury.