There Will Be Snacks
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
August 6, 2009
Three Science Theatre's contribution to this year's Incubator Series at the Ontologic-Hysteric Theatre, There Will Be Snacks, was inspired by two different subjects. Writer-director Chris Masullo explains in the program note:
Once, I accidentally attended a self-help seminar. Several months later, I accidentally read one of Alan Turing's papers on computer intelligence. Several months after that, my friends and I accidentally made this performance.
I was expecting more of a mashup in There Will Be Snacks, but in fact what seems to have happened is that Masullo & Co grafted the idea for one show (about Turing) onto another one (a broad parody of self-help seminars). The two parts don't have much to do with each other, and as a result the overall evening, a bit more than an hour in length, feels disjointed and unsatisfying—much more like friends enjoying a goof together than a serious effort at playmaking.
The first section of Snacks riffs on Alan Turing's life and ideas. There's some fun and inspired stuff here: my favorites included footage (on video) of a supposed symposium about Turing given by the play's two protagonists, Lance and Gary, to an audience of one, and a live demonstration of one of Turing's most important contributions to contemporary computing, The Turing Test, via a "Tom Cruise machine." (This latter segment works better in theory than in practice, I should add.) There's also a lot of weirdness that I couldn't quite make sense of—strange dancelike movements, repetitions, and a silent character named Blance who is covered from head to toe in a black bodystocking. I liked that this part of the play reminded me of / reinforced some of Turing's remarkable insights and actions, but I wished that it added up to more: if form influences or follows content here, I couldn't see how.
Abruptly, the Turing section ends and the show more or less restarts (reboots?); Lance and Gary move to the front row of the audience temporarily and a new character, Bill Callahan, a self-help guru whom we have been hearing about since the show began, appears, giving what is apparently one of his trademark lecture/performances for an audience that includes Lance, Gary, and all of us. This part of Snacks is antic, slightly surreal, highly physical, and often funny. It pokes fun at the idea of self-help as well as at the genre of the self-help seminar. As in the first section of the show, though, I found little here to take away with me beyond a generalized sense of silliness.
Ronan Babbitt as Lance and Thomas Pecinka as Gary work very hard, and pretty much non-stop, throughout the show: their energy and talent is exciting. William Callahan plays himself, the program informs us; he's memorable as the very hands-on, would-be charismatic swami. Emily Kunkel plays several roles in the Turing section, including early computer scientist Ada Lovelace and Disney's Snow White. Joe Hewes Clark is Blance.
The design is cluttered and impressive: Jonathan Cottle, Barbara Samuels, and Masullo are billed as production designers, and they've filled the stage with all kinds of scientific-looking gizmos and gadgets plus plenty of multimedia devices, none of which is really used as effectively or as much as we hope when we see them laid out in the space. The sound, by Chris Barlow and Masullo, is somewhat troublesome: lots of the video footage and even some of the dialogue spoken live into microphones on stage was garbled.
I have to admit that I was disappointed by There Will Be Snacks; I was fine with the show's playfulness but wanted a bit more substance and depth. Oh, and as for the title: there are no snacks, but there is free beer in a cooler in the front row of the audience.