03 November 2007

PHX: Where dreams go to die

We went to the "theater" last night. A small theater group really stretching to the utmost of their meager abilities.

Space 55 Theatre Ensemble is dedicated to producing new, unpublished and rarely seen works. We are committed to concentrating on the process of improvisation through ensemble, creation of new work, and the ongoing investigation of the process of creating theatre. We aim to develop a new "writer’s theatre" in Phoenix by nurturing new playwrights and continuing the crosspollination of artists from different genres. It is extremely important to us to build new audiences for the modern stage by creating a comfortable, affordable and open atmosphere in order to make the theatre experience accessible to all.*
Used to be I thought just people came to PHX to die. Now I know it's art and hope and dreams.

What the fuck? They're "nurturing new playwrights"? Let me tell you about the absolute SHIT that is the PHX "art" scene.

First off, there was nowhere to park. This is neither the fault of this little theater, nor directly related to their suckitude, but I bring it up to comment on the overall "art" scene in PHX. It was First Friday. Which in this town means a lot of posers smoking clove cigarettes, hemp clothing impregnated with patchouli, and people hawking bad art. No matter. We're going to see an interesting show so we can put up with that, right?

The show in question sounds promising: a "10 Minute Play Showcase, a one-of-a-kind theatrical event for the Valley. That’s six new plays, each ten minutes in duration, written by Phoenix-based playwrights". I expect there will be some chaff in the mix, but surely at least one lovely kernel.

The first piece is high-school existentialism at its most base. See, there's a dead guy talking to the man who helped him off himself. The dead guy's angry. The dead guy's seen everything, knows everything. He's seen God's grave. He's taken notes. The only thing truly notable was the crappy blocking. The aide-de-kill is upstage almost the entire piece forcing dead-guy to turn his head too much.

Then there's the promise of some humor...a message is projected and read aloud. Two-weeks after the deadline for submissions had passed, somebody sent a message to the theater's MySpace page suggesting 10 minutes of...a purple dragon, a man comes in, no one talks, and maybe there's a cat. I wish I could do it justice. My description might be more lucid than the very short idea sent in and that's the problem. Imagine what I wrote, but slowed down and dragged out by excessive pot use. So the theater's going to have some fun with this and do four variations on the theme. Here comes part the first: doesn't live up to the setup.

I hate to pick too hard on the next piece which felt very personal, so we'll leave it at saying I'm sure someone gave a shit about the story of the schizophrenic mother with breast cancer and her daughter (who might have inherited the disease) becoming a mother herself at 27. Someone really might have cared. Not the theater-goers, but someone.

Purple dragon variation #2. Makes the first look like genius. In this one, they eschew any attempt at comedy and go for drama. Yah. It doesn't fuckin' work.

Now, the meat of the evening. This is the play people will be talking about for years to come. This is the play Hollywood will be turning into a movie soon, I guarantee that. As long at the WGA strikes, this play is gold. "How to Count to 1000". Two men - the playwright Bob Fisher, who puts the ham in a Hormel factory farm, and his co-star - settle on stage. They clean up a bit, bring out two chairs and a Coleman, and...

Y'all know the story about Helena Modjeska, the Polish-born actress? At dinners, she'd sometimes do short dramatic scenes in Polish. Her performances were heart-wrenching. One time, it is said, she recited the Polish alphabet. Brought the crowd to tears. It is most likely apocryphal, but believable due to her immense talent.

Bob Fisher is not immensely talented. Yet he and his unfortunate co-star spent 10 minutes strutting, pouting, yelling, and weeping their way in fits and starts from one to 1000. "Time constraints" thrust upon them by the stage manager required them to break out of their strict incremental performance and there were a few out-of-sequence values. All part of the brilliant play Bob wrote. Remember above, the description of Space 55? It's a "writer's theater". (I was going to leave it be, but...it's only a theater for one writer? It's not a writers' theater?)

Hollywood should take heed of Bob's masterful plan. When the scripts have all dried up, I expect to see phonebooks read by Charlie Sheen and Jon Cryer, encyclopedias by the cast of The Office, and take-out menus printed on late-night cue cards (actually, that might be funnier than Leno's monologue.)

Another purple dragon variation that *could* have been mildly amusing. A large girl in a purple dress is the "dragon". She readjusts her ample bosom. A silly English ka-nig-it with drawn broadsword enters. There is a protracted battle. Music rises. They tango. And if it had been that fast or if the fight had been choreographed it would have amused.

Our final "real" play. "Salt". It seemed pretty decent, but you'll have to remember what came before. Having a Capri Sun straw shoved in my eye would have seemed decent in comparison. Some talking heads. A passionate, sad wail about the death of dreams and the conformity of life. Whatevs.

The final purple dragon variation was a bit of interpretive "dance". I'm no fan of dance, but I don't think that's why I disliked this. This looked a bit more like Madonna voguing in slow-motion.

This was a bad, bad night at the "theater". Then I got home. And heard some really good news for an acquaintance. Good news for her which indicated bad news for me. So here in the desert I stay, my hopes and dreams slowly dessicating in the sun. Fuck. I couldn't even be a PHX playwright. I try to use actual words to actually entertain. I don't write juvenile pastiches of Beckett or sequences of numbers. I have no hope, here.

But that's okay. I can remain a software engineer, right? I mean, when you think high-tech Mecca, you think PHX, right?

Fuck. I'm going to see if someone will help me kill myself so I can piss on God's grave.

* Huh. Didn't notice the first time. They use the British-English spelling of "theatre". So not only are they untalented clods who'd better spend their time painting desert sunsets and making kitschy cactus souvenirs, they're über-pretentious.