Thursday, October 23, 2008

God's Ear

By now, regular readers will probably note by my overuse of words like "whimsical" and my tendency to be drawn to plays with names like "Psycho Beach Party" that I like offbeat productions. So I thought I was all set with God's Ear at Boise Contemporary Theater.

"Jenny Schwartz has launched her career with a breathtaking new play about loss, love and language," BCT's description reads. "At the center of the story is a couple, struggling to find themselves and each other after a sudden family tragedy.... In contrast to its heavy subject matter, God's Ear features a playful cast of characters, including the Tooth Fairy, G.I. Joe and a transvestite flight attendant."

"The Tooth Fairy, G.I. Joe and a transvestite flight attendant?" I thought. "How can you go wrong?"

Let me assure you, it's very, very possible.

The play was simply weird. I gave up trying to get it and decided there really wasn't that much to get. I was absolutely baffled by the people around me in the audience after the show who were gushing about how great it was. To me, the whole thing smacked of pretension.

Some leeway may be called for because this is a play about grief, and of course different people experience pain and grief differently. And grief isn't always about crying or tragedy. But the play seemed insular somehow -- like it wasn't letting us in, like it wasn't trying to let us understand.

It certainly wasn't the fault of the actors. Tracy Sunderland and Matthew Cameron Clark, who play Mel and Ted, a married couple who have lost a son, are clearly superb, despite the fact that I didn't like the material they had to work with or how they were delivering it (clearly choices of the author and the director). And Andrea Caban brought some much-needed humor to the play with her portrayal of Lenora, the woman Mel refers to as a call girl.

The dialogue relied on the repetition and variation of key phrases. The same question might get asked four or five times, one right after another. The character who answers might give a different answer each time, or might give a synonym of their previous answer. Occasionally this leads to some genuine laugh lines, and there are some witty one-liners. But overall it's a structure that may have been interesting to play with as a writer, but did little for me as an audience member. The dialogue was also delivered in a very stilted, unnatural, often rushed manner. It seems at times like the emphasis is on all the wrong words. Real people don't talk like that.

One of the things I did like were the songs in the play -- a capella little tunes out of the middle of nowhere. One of my favorites was sung by Beau Baxter (who played Guy), a list of things you cannot sell on eBay (a list including "human organs" and "stolen stuff.") They added a little levity to a play that felt, so much of the time, completely numb.

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