Sunday, May 01, 2005

Battery (convergence-continuum)

Convergence-continuum attempts to electrify audience

A student in a playwriting class that I taught turned in a script that consisted of line after line of idioms referring to the game of baseball. This was the 1970s, the era of “hip” theatre, happenings, in your face language and messages, going against the grain, letting the audience figure it out for themselves. After the class had digested and commented on the manuscript, I asked the student, “Are you more interested in playing word games then in getting a message across?” He sat for a few moments, a sly grin stole across his face and he said, “I really love baseball!”

Daniel Therriault, the author of ‘BATTERY’ presently on stage at convergence continuum, Cleveland’s avant garde theatrical space, must really love electricity. As with my student, I found Therriault’s script to be mostly affect with an emphasis on language rather than story effect.

‘BATTERY’ has been described as “...a psychological tour of tortured souls.” It has also been called as “as much a multidimensional rap symphony as it is a play.” Further comments include, “Overly long and at times maddeningly redundant." Commentary also referred to “the playwright's excesses and twisting thought line.” One production was described as "Incredibly funny and totally disgusting.”

The play’s overriding metaphor is "A battery is two or more cells placed in a common container; one dominant." Set in Rip's Electric, a home appliance repair shop in Chicago, the play juxtaposes Rip (Brin Metzendorf) and Stan (Tim Coles). Rip is not only the dominant cell in his relationship with Stan, he also dominates Brandy (Meg Cavanaugh), who functions as little more than a sex toy to him to “set his electricity flowing.” Rip gives homemade shock treatments to his manic-depressive assistant, but when the treatment takes effect, the assistant yearns for his own independence and encourages the master’s battered girlfriend to do the same. In the end, Rip is left alone surrounded by his electrical repair equipment and worn out appliances, his opposing source of electricity gone.

As always, Clyde Simon’s direction is on course. There is no major problem with the production. His actors each develop a consistent characterization. The play is properly paced.

Jim Smith’s set design works well. No credit is given in the program for who collected the overwhelming number of electrical appliances and gadgets. The masses of Apple IIE computers, burned out toasters and out-dated vacuum cleaners would make a junk collector drool.

Those of you who are regular readers of my reviews know that I often find myself in an intellectual battle with convergence-continuum’s Artistic Director Clyde Simon over his play selections. He often picks scripts that I find obtuse, more flash than substance, more affect than effect, such offerings as Mac Wellman’s ‘7 BL*WJ*BS’ and “SINCERELY YOURS.’ On the other hand, he also picks what I would consider wonders like “HOT N THROBBING” and “QUILLS.” Okay, he wants to choose scripts that others in the area are afraid to select because of box office appeal and that’s good. But to pick abstraction for the sake of abstraction baffles me; but, it’s his theatre and his financial investment so he can do what he wants. I just hope that the niche audience he is aiming at continues to buy tickets as it would be a shame for the area not to have a “different” type of theatre.

Capsule Judgment: Daniel Therriault’s ‘BATTERY’ doesn’t say much to me. I was neither entertained nor repulsed, neither elated nor bored, neither electrified nor short circuited. Whether you will like the play depend on your tolerance for the over extended metaphor and the Twilight Zone-like subject matter.