Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Live from the Surface of the Moon: No Blast Off

Max Baker's play Live from the Surface of the Moon fumbles its way through feminism and sexism on the cusp of 1970.  What could have been an interesting window into the relationships between men and women in that era ends up a blunt scenario with underwritten characters.  It's like Mad Men with all the cruelty and smoking but none of the context which is critical to giving any meaning to the endeavor.

Carol (Kate Garfield) and Don (Ian Patrick Poake) have gathered their friends Wendell (Brian Edelman) and June (Breanna Foister) to watch the moon landing on TV.  Carol and Don are expecting a baby and have invited along Holly (Lisa Anderson) who is new in town and will be their babysitter. Holly is into poetry and The Doors and doesn't quite mix with the couples who are slightly older than she is and are puzzled over this "new generation."  Women's lib and gender roles become the topic of conversation. But the evening takes a dark turn and as per usual the women bear the brunt of this darkness.

I've been complaining about the lack of women's lib plays out there and how it would be nice if more writers explored this time period. Sadly Baker's work does not fit the bill. It's meant to give us some insight into the dynamics between men and women at that time but without any character shading just becomes an example of men abusing women...which is sadly, timeless.  Men coercing women into compromising positions when there is unequal power is not particularly newsworthy. And without any exploration of the motivations, emotions, or inner life of these characters all we are left with is watching and experiencing the abuse.

Watching a woman being abused in the "period" hardly feels enlightening. Many of the lines are meant to play on the expectations at the time that women were on the verge of gaining power and rights through women's lib. 40 years later it's not quite the land of equality that was imagined.  If I'm supposed to draw parallels to women continuing to be abused today I'm still not sure what you are saying.  Women continue to struggle to have a voice and when they are abused they struggle to confront their abusers.  The play definitely wants us to feel icky about it. But I felt that well before the play.

The play only perpetuated some pretty awful stereotypes about men being controlling and women being passive.  Neither men not women come out of this story well.   The play seems hellbent on making a broader point about gender roles but I was stymied as to what that point was. 

There were tone issues with Baker's direction.  At times the writing and performance mannerisms made it feel like it was all on the brink of some sort of absurdist breakdown--as if it was about to be another Blood Play (the oddball period domestic drama by the Debate Society).  It was not.

The performers put in a valiant effort to capture the time period but the over-use of smoking as stage business felt like a constant stream of empty gestures.  I wish the actors had had more to work with. 

Doss Freel's wood paneled set and Natalie Loveland's period costumes were far and away the best part of the production.

I received a complimentary ticket to attend. 

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