nytheatre.com review by Robin Reed
February 1, 2007
I am not familiar with the entire body of Charles Mee's work. I was lucky enough to catch bobrauschenbergamerica, the SITI Company production that played at BAM a few years ago. I really enjoyed the piece, because it, like the artist it was named for and inspired by, was a collage bursting with exciting images for the stage: big bold characters doing big bold things.
Mee's newest work, Gone, is also a collage piece, but in this production there is no bursting, the images that are exciting prove distracting, and the big bold characters are out of place. The text is overly wordy. It is cut and pasted from found pieces ranging from Sophocles to Allen Ginsberg, from Proust to Blogger, (yes, blogs). From the press materials, I understood that this was Mee's meditation on death and loss written after the death of a close friend and mentor. These are universal themes to which nobody is a stranger, but I couldn't find anything to connect with on stage.
The script, with its vastly contrasting sources seems carefully constructed, yet difficult to latch onto. The images on stage are over-ordered yet chaotic. Unfortunately, the direction by Kenn Watt and the design clutter the piece up and get in the way of the already confusing text.
The stage is set up as a stage within a stage, with a large raised platform in the center. The actors are visible throughout the bulk of the play. When they are not "actively performing" they are seated around the periphery of the inner stage doing innocuous busy work that I found distracting and unnecessary. The words are hard enough to make sense of; when Proust is writing in his journal or another character is poking through one of the many cardboard boxes or writing on the chalkboard that is the upstage wall, the eyes of the audience have little chance of focusing on the action center stage. Is the action on the sides going to explain something? Is that where the story is? I don't know.
What is even more difficult is how to decipher who is who. The guy dressed like Edgar Allen Poe going on about Madeleine cookies (among other things) is Proust, for sure. The nurse? Not sure. The military guy? The quasi-punk schoolgirl? The cowboy? Lady in a silk dress? No clue. In this case, the broad strokes of archetypal characters make no sense in the context of the play. The actors are all good, especially the cowboy (I would tell you who he is, but the program lists everyone only as "actor"), but I'm not sure if even they get the throughline.
Based on my memory of the show at BAM, I expected to like this more than I did. I know what Proust's take on death is. I've read Ginsberg. I am tuned into more blogs than proves productive at times. What I don't know is what Charles Mee thinks about loss. And ultimately, I found that I craved that much more than another game of cut and paste.