Existentialism: The Ride
nytheatre.com review by Hieu Tran
August 15, 2004
It is strange to see how a play written by two people (Ronald X. Pesh and David Dvorscak) and directed by five (Pesh, Dvorscak, his wife Doreen Murray Dvorscak, Jerry Sipp, and Richard Kirkwood) could lose itself, not in a whirlpool of conflicting styles and ideas, but rather in the monotonous drone of a single style and idea. I was fairly excited to see the Existentialism: The Ride, spurred by Pesh's playful, subversive description. He wrote, “at the end of our play . . . you’ll probably be so inspired you’ll rush home, read all the Camus and Kierkegaard you can, then quit your job and hang out at a cafa all day . . . It’ll basically be a life-changing experience. How can you NOT go?” Oh, if only that humor had carried over to the show.
The play opens with Pesh walking onstage carrying a hula hoop. He stops, sits down inside the hula hoop, takes out a journal and begins writing “out-loud,” as the theatrical convention goes. Do I remember much of what he was saying? Not really, except to say that it had something to do with broad existentialist doctrines, intoned in an unwavering mock-scholastic style. Apparently he finds himself immersed in a self-imposed/metaphorical/arbitrary/socially-constructed pit, and throughout the play he encounters characters ranging from a ditzy woman to a Shakespearean swordsman to a wannabe gangsta, played interchangeably by the three remaining actors (David Dvorscak, Sipp, and Kirkwood). The point of all this, I suppose, is to hammer home the idea that everyone, as disparate as they may be from one other, similarly leads the same arbitrary existence. They impart their own meanings and significations to their lives, and outside of that there is nothing else. I think that’s the point, but I’m not sure.
Interspersed among these episodes are scenes delineating the rise of a mega-corporate power, lazily named McDisMart. Do I need to tell you how broad and unnuanced these boardroom sketches are? An executive and his two underlings (played again by Dvorscak, Sipp, and Kirkwood) scheme up ways to profit exorbitantly from the blind, consumerist tendencies of, well, the rest of us. Are there trenchant, satirical points to be made here? Of course; but the best satire pricks at our own awareness of our foibles artfully, deftly, and in an imaginative, multiplex manner—and not, as in the case of this play, in a dull, fixed, stabbing motion. The idea of Nazi concentration camp and jihad amusement park rides may seem funny—well, at least to some of us—but when the notion extends no further than that, when its sole point of humor comes from a broad, cliched understanding of corporations as greedy and the masses as credulous, then the play is no longer being subversive. It’s merely preaching an unreflective, popular sentiment.