UNIDENTIFIED: THE FARMINGTON ARMADA
nytheatre.com review by Jeff Lewonczyk
Any evening of theatre that employs an anthology format is bound to be
uneven; it's inherent in the premise that different writers working
towards a common goal will have differing levels of success. All the
more disappointing, then, when the level of writing in such an evening
is consistently quite high, but let down by spotty performances and
uninspired direction. This, alas, is the case with Unidentified: The
Farmington Armada, an anthology of short plays regarding an
unexplained rash of UFO sightings in 1950s New Mexico.
August 15, 2003
The writing on hand, while tending primarily toward the comic, shows great variation. Scott Baker's "Armada Bar" is a surreal vignette about a mysterious man tending bar in the middle of an empty field; "Worse Things Than Aliens," by Jeff Resta, shows a shrewd housewife exploiting the sightings to preserve her domestic tranquility; Jeff Hudson's "Alien Variations" depicts a saucer sighting getting caught and chewed up by the circuitous verbal routines of an aging lesbian couple. These stories, and many others, recount with delicacy, wit, and tenderness the straits of common people working their way through a profoundly uncommon situation.
Unfortunately, many of the playlets come across as only too common and, even worse, boring. Lisa Gardner (who added new pieces and adapted old ones from the project's original production in New Mexico last year) and co-director James Heatherly seem so confident in the strength of the writing that they haven't given the actors much to do. The subtlety required to bring some of these little gems to life is almost entirely absent, leaving the stage feeling nearly as barren as the desert in which the action takes place.
An example is "Eleanor Unbound," by Charles Pike (the originator of the project), a split-stage tale featuring a husband in a bar and a wife at the hairdresser's, both describing an inexplicable incident involving their cow, Eleanor. The dialogue is brisk and overlapping, as it should be, but all of the performers overcompensate by starting at fever pitch, leaving them with nowhere to go. The result is exhausting where it should be entertaining.
In the end, many of the performers acquit themselves well, but not enough to make the stories soar. The piece as a whole seems intended to evoke our shared humanity; instead, this production evokes the difficulties of sharing good material with an audience.