Sunday, August 26, 2012

Oh the Humanity and Other Good Intentions

"Time is moving forward with or without us."  When you see a Will Eno play, truth (uncomfortable or not) will likely be on the menu.  During his shows, I often feel that I cannot even count on the seat I am sitting on--as if it suddenly might start to drift away mid-show.  Gently he unravels any certainty you might have about the world around you and in those frayed strands you see the uneven beauty and poetry of life as we know it.

Eno writes with gorgeous meter and powerful images  His characters are revealing, confusing, witty, and sad.  They offer so much about themselves but they never seem to have the answers to life.
When I described the work of Daniel Kitson to a friend she said he sounded like the British Will Eno.  Now that I've seen a couple of Eno works I do find there are interesting spiritual parallels to their work. They both offer up an honest window into humanity and all its foibles.  They love language and when their characters speak there is beauty in how they express their feelings.  They don't always dwell on beautiful moments--in fact quite the opposite.  They take ordinary moments and stuff them so full of emotional wallop that it is dizzying.  There is something sad in the stories--but with the loss, pain, loneliness or anguish there is also some element of celebration of those feelings.  Without those feelings we are not complete humans.  They both tell stories of us--all of us--with the good, bad, and unfortunate all mixed in.  And most of all, they are both goddamn funny.

They are not identical by any means but if you like the intelligence and darkly comedic moments in Kitson then you might like his slightly more esoteric American cousin, Eno.

It seemed only fitting that after seeing Kitson's new play, As of 1.52pm GMT on Friday April 27th 2012, This Show Has No Title, that I should follow it with this collection of Eno plays.  Northern Stage presented these five short plays directed by Erica Whyman (soon to be the Deputy Artistic Director of the RSC) at the Edinburgh Fringe this month.

One was about a coach facing a barrage of cameras after a rough season, one involved intercut monologues of people preparing videos for a dating website, one of an inexperienced airline PR woman addressing the families of people who've just died in a plane crash, one involved a photographer trying to restage a famous old photo, and one of a couple suddenly discovering themselves in a place they hardly recognize. 

Themes of uncertainty and inconvenient truths flowed throughout the plays.  They contained characters full of wanting, loss, and pain.  Words, motifs, and images echoed and ricocheted within the plays.  But despite the seriousness of the themes Eno's writing and the fantastic performances, by Lucy Ellinson, John Kirk and Tony Bell, made these plays sizzle with humor.  And because it's Eno, it was often disconcerting humor at that.

A photographer walking around the audience attempting to take our photo says  with delight,  "Your agonies are so photogenic." 

For me the dating video segment was the most revealing (especially as illuminated by Ellinson and Bell).  We are watching these characters as they struggle and slog through their own self-analysis of what they want out of a partner--but it forces them to assess their own lives.  They contradict themselves.  They openly speak of their belief in someone out there and at the same time their hearts seem to have given up the search.  They dream big and they worry small, articulating what they think they want, who they think they are.  One says "the sky keeps changing and me underneath it."  Nothing is fixed or known and as adults there is something powerful in an image of adulthood with less certainties than one ever imagined when one was younger. 

The coach faced with defeat antagonistically confronts his audience.  He says "When is high school over.? When do I begin my life as me on earth?"   Another lost man, adrift at a time when we project to the world our certitude and authority.  Dancing around words like loss, failure, and forfeit, he begs his audience for understanding and poetry as his vocabulary fails him.  

The plane crash segment was the funniest and wackiest.  Possibly the worst PR woman in the world who can only seem to speak the truth noting that her company has a record of "somewhat excellence."  Rather than spin the facts or comfort grieving family members all she manages to talk about is hopelessness, loss, powerlessness, and death.  

Darkly comedic juxtapositions are hard to pull off but Eno does so here.  The audience at St. Stephens in Edinburgh seemed to hold back its laughter during the show (perhaps not sure they could laugh) but it was met with rousing applause in the end.  For those who missed it in Edinburgh, I highly recommend checking it out when it comes to London in September.  Eno's taut, smart, and insightful work is worth seeking out and this production elucidates his material admirably. 

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