nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
April 28, 2012
Degeneration X, a new multimedia play created by Leah Bachar (author) and Meredith Edwards (director), uses live action and pre-recorded video to tell the truly gripping story of Xavier, a young man who is stricken with a rare, incurable disease that will eventually make him blind. In the weeks and months before he completely loses his vision, he is plagued with hallucinations and an increasing inability to focus and concentrate. Much of the play/film deals directly with his condition and his response to it, and when it sticks to this theme Degeneration X is both harrowing and fascinating.
But a good deal of the piece explores subjects that feel tangential to this main idea, including a storyline involving the unannounced visit of Xavier's sister, an artist with a good deal of personal baggage, and another relating to Xavier's ex-girlfriend, and still another about his punkish new roommate Marty. I think it was because I was so compelled by the play's ability to really get under Xavier's skin and into his head by letting us experience how his (macular) degeneration might feel (mostly through the use of canny video that depicts Xavier's new reality rather than an objective one we might see) that I felt let down (and less interested) when the play moved into these other areas.
I was also disappointed that the multimedia effects are applied here so inconsistently. At their best, they create an elucidating world that could not be achieved with conventional theatrical methods. But about half of the play's running time is made up of filmed sequences, and many of these—especially in the second act—didn't seem to contribute anything new, thematically or experientially. Instead, they felt like evidence of unresolved tension between creating a play and making a movie; it seemed more and more like Bachar and Edwards had become enamored with their filmmaking and had abandoned their play—and with it, their live audience, seated in a theatre, wondering why this was billed as theatre and not cinema.
I was also disappointed that, all of the above notwithstanding, multimedia is not used where it's most needed, i.e., to cover the many transitions between scenes. Stagehands would appear during blackouts to rearrange furniture, etc., while the three screens on the back walls of the set remained blank. Each time this happened, it felt like a squandered opportunity to utilize the available technology.
Bachar and Edwards show real skill as playmakers and filmmakers. Micah B. Chartrand, who stars as Xavier, does fine work, perhaps more so on camera than off. In the places where these collaborators use everything that's available to them to show us Xavier's deterioration and transformation, Degeneration X demonstrates acuity, insight, and talent.