Monday, March 19, 2012

The Hyacinth Macaw

Mac Wellman’s THE HYACINTH MACAW confounds at con-con

Clyde Simon, the Artistic Director of convergence-continuum has a thing for Mac Wellman. As Simon states in his director’s note for THE HYACINTH MACAW, now in production at con-con, “Wellman’s plays have been particular favorites of mine.” Simon goes on to explain that he was a resident director and actor at The Flea, Wellman’s off-Broadway theatre.

Simon finds Wellman’s work “the kind of plays truly suited to our company’s artistic outlook, acting styles and intimate environmental staging.”

THE HYACINTH MACAW is the sixth of Wellman’s works that the theatre has done. I find it the sixth of the writer’s works that have confounded me! I tend to agree with a reviewer who stated, when a local theatre in his city presented Macaw, “There are thousands of words in Hyacinth Macaw. Unfortunately, one word is missing: ‘stop,’ as in ‘Stop this nonsense IMMEDIATELY.’”

Simon isn’t the only person who has a thing for Wellman. The writer is considered by some to be the icon of American experimental theatre. He has written over 40 plays, and is the winner of three OBIE citations.

Wellman states that Macaw is one of “four plays that taken together tell a story about a young woman adrift and alienated in a world essentially gone mad…populated by corporate thieves and religious maniacs and desperate losers of all kinds.” In this space in time, with ponzi schemes, the fanatical religious right in full political bloom, and bank foreclosures on houses, we could use such a play to reflect our society. I’d love to believe that’s what he is saying, but I have trouble digging that out from his continued stream of doublespeak.

How the actors remembered their lines is a wonder. Try these on: “What is real has no name.” “What happens when the casket doesn’t fit in the hole?” “Invisible college of devils.” “Adolescent episodes of theatrical dementia.” So, you’re saying, “These are taken out of context, that’s why they don’t make sense.” Nope, there isn’t much context from which they were removed. It’s more like a group of people with Tourette’s syndrome, streaming gibberish.

Try this on: a stranger appears in a family’s backyard in Bug River (state unidentified). He carries a suitcase which, we find out much later, contains the dying moon. (I kid you not.) He calls a teenager an orphan, gives her mother a letter, informs the father/husband he is a fake and has to leave his family. (End of Act 1.) Act 2: The stranger gives dad a snake, dad leaves, everyone sings Battle Hymn of the Republic, the stranger is now the new dad, mom talks to Mad Wu, a Caucasian-Chinaman with ever-changing accents, the daughter and the new father bury the moon and she caw-caws like a macaw (the world’s largest flying parrot), while listening to the new dad inform her that they are now all orphans. Black out!

Okay, life is illusionary. I get that. English is a language of many, many words. I also get that. But, randomly stringing them together in the guise of making sense, is not, in my opinion, good theatre. But, as the play says, “never doubt your ignorance.”

The fact that the cast could try and make us believe that what they are saying makes any sense, is a wonderment. Yet, they do. Hurrah to Lucy Bredeson-Smith, Lauren B. Smith, Michael Regnier, Clyde Simon and Michael Prosen for having the chutzpah to try.

I guess I’m from the school that says a play must be purposeful and the audience has to understand what is going on. In other words, the script has to tell us what the playwright wants from us. Yes, some plays are abstract, that’s not the issue. WAITING FOR GODOT and NO EXIT aren’t for the non-thinking, but at least when they are done, I have a pretty clear inkling of what Samuel Beckett is trying to tell me. Same goes for Pinter and Albee. Sorry, but I can’t say the same for Mac Wellman.

Capsule Judgement: Mac Wellman’s THE HYACINTH MACAW is not theatre for everyone. If you like abstract doubletalk and want to sit and pretend you are an intellectual who understands what the author is trying to say, this will be your thing. I’ll wait and hope I better appreciate the theatre’s next production DEVIL BOYS FROM BEYOND, the tale of a journalist who investigates reports of flying saucers in the swamplands of Lizard Lick, Florida.