Love Pollution: A TeknoPopera
nytheatre.com review by Jonathan Warman
August 15, 2004
Nomenil Theater Company, an avant-pop theatre troupe from Chicago, takes me back to my theatrical roots. I started my professional theatre career as the lead male actor in a feminist avant-garde theatre company in mid-'80s Omaha. We did highly conceptual, plotless musicals that combined punk and techno-pop.
Love Pollution, Nomenil’s “tekno popera” takes me back for several reasons, some good, some not so good. Christopher Powers’ score, as delivered by the show's energetic cast, isn’t the hardcore techno that dominated '90s dance; instead it’s old-school electro-techno that’s more Fad Gadget primitivism than Fischerspooner buzz-clash. It’s an interesting vocabulary to bring to the musical theatre, and many of the numbers are memorable and effective. The look of the show, all bright colors and slashed garments, is every bit as retro-80s as the music. These external elements are for me pleasantly nostalgic.
The downside: Much of the book (co-written by Allen Conkle and Courtney Evans) is written in the highly poetic, arch style that dominates avant-garde playwriting from Antoinin Artaud to Mac Wellman. The shows I did in Omaha had a lot of this portentous doggerel in them—I’ve never been convinced that this stuff has any place in the theatre. It’s not evocative, it doesn’t deepen the art in any way that’s innately theatrical. The episodic story of the misadventures of a fleshy robot is already a thematically confusing tangle, and overlaying this with opaque dialogue really tries one’s patience.
There is another voice at work here (perhaps because the piece has two authors?), one that’s friskily queer, camp, and crystal clear, but also capable of conveying the heart of the show’s message in a grippingly direct monologue delivered by a blind pauper. When this voice dominates, I can see the show’s truly subversive potential, potential that is not realized by Love Pollution in its current form.