Saturday, June 25, 2011

REVIEW: The Future is in Eggs / Sicilian Limes

Joseph Hendel, Lauren Rayner Productions, and ADEV Inc.
a night of deadly serious comedies

"Do you have an iPhone? Do you have headphones?" Not the questions you'll usually be faced with at the box office of a normal evening of theater. Already, you've got my attention.

Running through Sunday night, Joseph Hendel returns (previous here) with two classic comedies plays in a single evening, Ionesco's The Future Is In Eggs and Pirandello's Sicilian Limes. And yes, he'll want to know whether you brought your technological distractions with you to the theater.


Before the audience gets to find out why Mr. Hendel and producer Lauren Rayner are interested in their digital accoutrements, Ionesco's The Future Is In Eggs is presented.

The Future Is In Eggs, Or: It Takes All Sorts To Make A World is an absurdist piece about a recently married adorable couple Jacques (Brendan Sokler) and Roberta (Skylar Saltz), who have not yet borne fruit for their families, if you follow. The families conspire to get something out of them, cajoling and guilting them and finally teaching them how to do it -- so that they can bear the eggs that they need to perpetuate the race.

Yes, eggs. You read that right.

The Future Is In Eggs draws from the rich history of Italian clowning, and marries it to an absurdist symbolic satire; in this case, the breeding habits of chickens becomes the sexual politics of Fascist Italy. (The date on the play is 1951, half a decade after the fall of Mussolini, when fascists, democrats, and communists were already in full-swing of a struggle that would eventually culminate in The Years of Lead).

For this kind of absurdity, you need to be very specific about how the actors are directed, and here the staging is a little wobbly. At times, the focus is diffuse -- too much is happening onstage and the actors are not all treating the madness in the same way. Particularly in one group moment toward the end, it turns into something like the Arrested Development chicken dance writ large).

Sometimes the cast treats what's going on as an assumed part of every day life, but my favorite parts were when members of the cast dove into the proceedings with the sort of insane glee that one can imagine from a raving ideologue. On that count, the stand-out in the cast is Skylar Saltz as the young Roberta, whose insane glee while being slammed into an imaginary glass wall above the set will probably be my lasting memory of the production.

The production has every bit of the understanding and rabid enthusiasm that ideology needs, but it could use with the strict choreography and machine-like efficiency of the fascism to help the moments land.


Luigi Pirandello's Sicilian Limes is a sweeter, more personal tale, about a young man Micuccio (Bradley J. Sumner) who takes a long journey to rekindle a love with a singer whose career he started, only to discover her changed by fame and fortune, unrecognizable as the woman he spent years pining over.

Before we got to see this story, however, we had to get ready for the experiment.

Remember that part when the box office asked if we had iPhones or headphones? Well, it turns out that the play was being performed as a pantomime with personal sound-tracks. Every person either used MyStreamApp on the iPhone or mp3 players provided by the company to tune into one of two possible soundtracks: either a realistic audio-book of the dialogue, or an experimental music track scored over the music. iPhone users could select which one they preferred; mp3 listeners were given one at random.

I got the realistic audio-book, so my experience of the evening is one that only about half of the audience had. Unable to revisit the show, I can only guess at what it was like for the experimental music listeners.

Before we even got into the production, however, there was the matter of all of us pressing "play" at the same time so we'd be in sync with the performers (who were also listening to the streams, to keep themselves synced with the audience). It took five or so tries, but eventually, we all got close enough.

I still wonder if there was a better way to provide a track so that more of the control was in the hands of the stage manager -- I think it was only those with mp3 players who were having trouble getting started, and the more room for error was removed, the better. As with the first play, the style of clowning being invoked requires specificity, and anything that can be done to take the variance out of it only sharpens it and increases the punch.

There was one strong moment that showed me why this experiment was taking place, however. At the crux of the play, Micuccio sees his long lost love for a moment and realizes the last three years of his life have been a lie. The audiobook provides the playwright's response: words of sorrow and despair. Freed from having to deliver the lines, Micuccio gets to play out the inner life of the moment, the actual physical pain and confusion of the despair.

Separating out how we communicate despair from how we experience it internally strengthened that moment and enriched it. Other moments too benefited from this relationship, although at other times I was a little jealous of the experimental music people, imagining them to be having a deeper and more profound experience than me.

Oh, and spare a moment for the prop design: I have to admit that the moment when Micuccio reveals his piccolo -- an important symbol for the child-like simplicity of the world he comes from -- I absolutely loved what co-properties designers Drew Vanderburg and Elinor Monroe did with it. I won't say exactly what, but oddly enough that piccolo was worth a thousand works.


All in all, the evening was more ambitious than All in the Timing, although drawn from the same bountiful well of clowning. Where there is already a great sense of fun, and an understanding of what makes these plays tick, more sharpening can turn these performances from good experiments into outstanding productions. At the very least, I'm looking forward to new experiments and new ideas.

(Disclaimer: The FCC requires that I disclose any free item I was given in return for this review. I received the following items:
  • One (1) free ticket to the performance. Estimated value: $20.
  • One (1) program, consisting of two pages (one full color, one black and white) and a small colored paper insert. Estimated value: $0.04.
  • One (1) round blue sticker. Estimated value: $0.01 or less.
  • One (1) CD containing press release, digital images, scripts, etc. Estimated value: $0.05 physical materials, $40 worth of intellectual property.
In exchange for these $60.10, I implied that I would write the above article. I made no guarantees as to its content or format, although it was implied that this would be similar to the my previous review of Joe Hendel's work.

Having made this disclosure, I trust I have complied with the letter of the FCC's regulation.)