Sunday, July 10, 2005

The Lost Formicans (convergence-continuum)

Aliens invade convergence-continuum

No matter your reaction to the plays they produce, you have to give credit to Artistic Director Clyde Simon and Executive Director Brian Breth--they never pick plays that are ordinary. The dynamic duo seems to search out scripts that create an itch that is hard to scratch and incite intellectual chaos in viewers. They have done it again with Constance Congdon’s ‘TALES OF THE LOST FORMICANS.’

Cogan is a Guggenheim Fellow who has received several playwriting awards. She has been described as “a genuine pioneer,” “a truly original writer,” a “kind of post modernist who desires to explore the collective nervous breakdown of American society.” She is noted for departing from the tradition of narrative dramatic realism and creating a theatricality of theatre. This is much in the vein of the early twentieth century dramatists and directors who intentionally made audiences aware that they were not seeing reality by using fragmented settings and devices to make the audience realize that they were watching a play.. She supposedly was one of the leaders in making theatre into a “kinetic event.”

With this said, you can understand why seeing ‘TALES OF THE LOST FORMICANS’ is not your every-day theatrical experience. And that’s exactly what convergence continuum is all about. The theatre has been able to survive by cultivating an audience of like-minded people who don’t want to see “every day theatre.”

The ‘TALES OF THE LOST FORMICANS’ could be termed a tragic comedy which is part dream play and part sci-fi. It is formed around the premise that space aliens are observing and interpreting suburban life though the lens of their own culture.

The play follows the story of Cathy and her dysfunctional family. After her husband impregnates one of his students, she leaves him and moves from New York City to her childhood home in a midwestern suburb to care for her father who is battling Alzheimer's disease. Her rebellious son, overbearing mother, self-destructive best friend and spaced-out neighbor complete the real-life characters. In addition, a group of alien narrators observe.

The aliens dub the humans “Formicans”--users of Formica. The goings on are caught on film which the extraterrestrials “rewind” several times when they realize that things are in the wrong place as they make pronouncements about their subjects’ behavior. Such statements as “they reproduce with difficulty” and “they are grouped in loosely structured units called families” resound with objective certainty. Others, however, suggest that the alien researchers are having difficulty deciphering the “complex but strangely intangible” culture they unearth and the numerous artifacts they find. For example, they carefully examine a kitchen chair, upholstered in plastic with chrome legs. Admitting that they do not know “the significance of the hole in the backrest,” they speculate that it may have been “a breathing hole for the spirit of the sitter, or even the ever-present eye of God.”

As is usually the case at convergence-continuum, the play is well directed and acted. Clyde Simon has paced the show well; wisely plays it as comedy instead of farce; has incorporated many appropriate multi-media devices into the staging; and has assembled an excellent cast.

Wes Shofner is right on target as the Alzheimer infected father. Multi-recipient Times Tribute Award winner Lucy Bredeson-Smith develops the role effectively as his wife and mother of Cathy. Though much too young for the role, Amy Bistok is generally believable as Cathy, but needed a more mature approach to the role. Robert Walker is full of the proper teenage angst as Cathy’s son Eric. Geoffrey Hoffman effectively develops the character of the neighbor who believes in conspiracies and aliens. Christine McBurney is generally unbelievable as Cathy’s friend Judy. Her lines often sound memorized and lacking in meaning. Arthur Grothe has watched enough sci-fi movies to duplicate the expected sound and moves of the visitor from outer space.

Adding somewhat to the confusion was the use of the same actors to play aliens and humans. Were we to believe they were one in the same, had invaded human bodies or that they were, in fact, different beings? Hmmm......

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: To some, ‘TALES OF THE LOST FORMICANS’ will be a funny, deeply moving, and insightfully revealing play. To others it will confound and confuse. Whatever, the convergence-continuum production is generally well performed and fulfills the avowed mission of the theatre to present plays not normally produced by other local venues.