nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
August 15, 2009
The Event is as dense and thought-provoking an hour as you'll find at the 2009 FringeNYC Festival, and also among the most entertaining as well. And why not? It's a product of the brain of John Clancy, the festival's founding artistic director, and like the very ethos of FringeNYC this piece is meant to challenge and shake up its audience by turning the conventional theatre-going experience on its ear and by doing so quickly, deftly, and economically: The Event lasts just 63 minutes and utilizes exactly one actor, one stage manager, one technician, and one chair.
The program cues us into the self-referential meta-ness of The Event even before it begins, informing us that it is "Memorized & said out loud by Matt Oberg." When the lights go down, Oberg appears on stage and immediately embarks on the postmodern deconstructionist bent that will characterize the entire hour. He's just an actor, he says; the words he's saying are not his own; the suit he's wearing isn't even his own. He's determined to isolate and expose every ounce of artifice (though of course he cannot, since the isolation and exposure make up their own layer of artifice).
He's genial and pleasingly ordinary and he tells us we can leave anytime we want; that we can rest or nap if we wish to; that we can look at our watches (and he obligingly announces the time, complete with how many minutes are still to go, several times during the show).
On one level, it's self-aware theatricks that we may have encountered before in a play by C.J. Hopkins or Clancy himself; Brecht's theories wrought elegantly but directly. On another level, it's a fascinating dissection of and meditation on the actor's art. When The Event has its Actor look inwardly, it brims with insight that helps us understand what it means to surrender yourself to the words and purposes of others.
Which brings us to yet another level, the political one (or one of the political ones). Early on, I made the connection between the Actor Oberg plays and the Actor that politicians are more and more often seemingly becoming (former President George W. Bush came to mind). And when the talk turned to the unseen and possibly sinister technician in the booth, turning the switches masterfully and ultimately in control, I thought of Karl Rove. Clancy is clearly interested in having us see connections between the artifice that pervades theatre and the artifice that pervades the rest of our lives, and there's a lot of food for thought in The Event to help us make those connections.
Running through all of this is yet another theme, which has to do with the way our technological connectedness has made us disconnected. There's a very thoughtful passage about how it used to be possible to simply not be at home, to not be available to everybody in the world who wants to reach you via cellphone, email Twitter, Facebook, etc. The good old days, when staying in touch meant you actually touched when you did so.
The design of the script, and of Oberg's impeccable performance, is to keep the ruminating focused yet remote; the thing the play does not have is the soul that a genuine human story can bring, the kind that pervades another piece that I thought of more than once during The Event, Thornton Wilder's Our Town. The Event does have an aching, beating heart, however, and Clancy's clear concern for the current state of humankind circa 2009 is genuine and he makes, here, a clear call to action.
Oberg, whose career I have followed since his NYC debut in Midnight Brainwash Revival a decade ago, is masterful; he holds the stage with assurance and manages to be charismatic and fascinating even as he plays the most average and unassuming Joe imaginable. It's consummate acting, the kind we hope for in the theatre and have to be wary of everywhere else... which is indeed one of the main ideas The Event wants to remind us of.