Beyond the Vanishing Point
Upon entering the Loeb Ex last weekend, an audience member's instinct would be to run in the opposite direction. For the production of Phyllis Nagy's Disappeared the black box theatre was filled with artificial fog from a smoke machine. The room was stuffy, smelly and hot and the production hadn't even started. It's arguable as to whether the pollution was worth the effect it had on the production, but it did serve to produce the proper atmosphere for this dark and disturbing play.
Nagy's play, which first premiered in London in 1995, takes place in Manhattan, on the East Side. The plot focuses around the disappearance of Sarah Casey (Adia Tucker '01), a travel agent who never travels, and on Elston Rupp's (Brendon DeMay '03) possible involvement with this disappearance. Sarah's mother (Dale Shuger '01) doesn't care about her, and her boyfriend (Shawn Snyder '03) doesn't understand her.
Both the mother and boyfriend are two of the most stereotyped characters to be brought to the stage-Ellen Casey is a hysterical mess of a New York working class widow; Anthony is a Sicilian hairdresser with very little brains. These characters are pulled off convincingly, if a bit inconsistently, but not without a lot of hands banging on the kitchen table for emphases. Needless to say, Sarah has many reasons why she would want to disappear. She deals with her problems by hanging out at a bar in Hell's Kitchen where she sings "Eleanor" by the Turtles, convinced that it was written for her.
Enter Elston Rupp. He wears a ridiculous looking red and black tuxedo; he knows Sarah's name, he talks about fate. None of this would be particularly remarkable except for the fact that Sarah left the bar with him and was never seen again. Elston mentions that he drowns people in bathtubs-he takes them home and keeps them for a few days to talk to them and then he kills them. We never find out if this was Sarah's fate or if she simply decided to disappear. The play instead focuses on the lives of these two sad and lonely people by showing the events leading up to and following Sarah's disappearance.
The story is carried out through a series of vignettes, usually between two or three characters. They are nicely composed and woven together; the problem is that in this production they are not woven closely enough. The set is designed specifically for fast scene changes-the bar, apartments, the clothing store Elston works at are all spread out on the stage so that only the lighting has to change for a new scene to begin. Yet sometimes the audience has to wait nearly three minutes between scenes.
Fortunately, music between scenes, which ranged from Bjork to spooky Kenny G-like jazz, added to the dark mood of the play-that is, when it didn't have the audience bouncing up and down in their seats and singing along to "Happy Together." The music, which really did have an integral role in the play because there were so many scene changes, was not enough to make up for the time the audience spent literally in the dark.
Brendon DeMay '03 as mysterious and disturbing Elston Rupp carried the show. Natalie (Raya Terry '04), his employer who honestly wants to be good to him, cannot because he makes her skin crawl. DeMay is good because his sincere stares, pointed yet innocent questions and lack of emotion do make your skin crawl. At the same time you want to see more of him-to find out what makes him tick. And it's not often that you want to see more of a character who is a short, creepy, lying, loser who may or may not be a serial killer.
The bartender who mediates some of the main interactions (Shawn Snyder '03) has a caricatured role to play if ever one was written. Yet Snyder does it well-he stays out of the scene when he is not called for, and he somehow turns the rambling unintelligent speeches he is given into a character with a soul. If only Snyder as Irish bartender was differentiated from Snyder as Sicilian hairdresser by something more than a wig.
We don't see much truly dark theatre come through Harvard; barring some production difficulties and given a few outstanding performances Disappeared was a refreshing change-though given the smoke, hardly a breath of fresh air.
DISAPPEARED written by Phyllis Nagy directed by Alison Haskovec '02 Nov. 9 to 12 Loeb Experimental Theater
Alison Haskovec '02
Nov. 9 to 12
Loeb Experimental Theater