A New Television Arrives, Finally
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
September 8, 2007
The very first thing that happens in Kevin Mandel's new play A New Television Arrives, Finally is that a new television arrives at the apartment of an unnamed Man. Except that the television is not a television: it's a man, who says "I've brought with me an inexhaustible supply of information....I represent all things from all places....I have come here for one purpose only. And that is your entertainment."
So, Mandel is going for absurdism, or surrealism; and for satire. But what are his targets? A probably fatal flaw of this script is that it begins with this event. We have no information about Man (and his fiancee, Woman, who arrives shortly thereafter). What do they need? What do they want? Why is the arrival of this television something that we're to understand as happening "finally"?
The play's problems continue as soon as the Television (actually a man) begins to interact with his new "consumer." He doesn't behave like any television I've ever seen. (Okay, he sits down on the TV stand; but that's about it.) He doesn't broadcast different programs. He doesn't have a remote or a TIVO attached. He doesn't even have a video component at all; he just talks. He talks about what he wants to talk about, when he wants to talk. When he doesn't want to talk, he shuts up, to Man's chagrin. None of this made much sense to me: Why does Man accept this other person as a Television? Why should we? In what way is he a Television?
Eventually, after Woman turns up, it appears that the Television is being viewed by the Man and Woman as an unlooked for but now essential redeemer of their empty, disappointed souls. (The Television actually calls them "emptiness" and "disappointment," to their faces.) The Television humiliates them, coddles them, and leads them through an empowerment ritual—all of which they really seem to like. But, again, it's not clear what points Mandel is trying to make with any of this.
Ultimately, we have here an intriguing premise but not much follow-through. We need to know much more about the Man and Woman, and we need a clearer and more consistent set of "rules of engagement" for this piece to have the impact that its author desires.
Director Kevin Kittle strives mightily to make the show work, but the script's inherent weaknesses defeat him. Neither Bryan Fenkart (Man) nor Kate Russell (Woman) really convinces us of the desperation and/or desolation that their characters presumably feel (else why would they let a Television boss them around?); and Tom Pelphrey seems at sea as the Television. (In an interesting casting twist, another actor, Victor Villar-Hauser, alternates with Pelphrey as the Television, so you may see him instead.)
There's evidence of talent in Mandel's play, but as it stands, A New Television Arrives, Finally is far from ready for prime time.