Saturday, March 21, 2015

177 (2014-2015): THE FEAST (March 19, 2015)

"Plumbing the Depths"

THE FEAST, Cory Finley’s compact, offbeat, psychological thriller in the Flea’s tiny downstairs venue, receives well calibrated performances from its three actors under Courtney Ulrich's direction. The piece, which runs slightly under an hour, moves quickly, its dialogue is clipped and natural-sounding, and the characters, while two-dimensional, are sufficiently lifelike for its purposes. However, when it ends you may ask yourself Peggy Lee’s immortal question, “Is that all there is?”
Ivan Dolido, Kristin Friedlander. Photo: Bjorn Bolinder.
While this isn’t what anyone would call a dramatic feast, neither is it quite a famine; it has sufficient meat on its bones to keep audiences chewing during most of its brief duration. Set in a black-painted space designed by Andrew Diaz to serve as an apartment, a therapist’s office, and a street outside a bar, it revolves around Matt (Ivan Dolido), a young painter (the gallery, not the house kind, we’re told) who lives with Anna (Kristin Friedlander), a management consultant. Something’s wrong with their toilet, which is making very odd noises, so a plumber (Donaldo Prescod), saying Anna sent him, shows up to take a look. He tells Matt that the sound coming from the pipes is like “a man, tied up down there. Water streaming over his mouth.” Something surreal’s going on, and, despite the quiet naturalism of the acting, when the plumber suggests that Matt go down into the toilet to see for himself what’s going on, we realize we’re on the slippery border between reality and fantasy. Later, Matt will deny to Anna that the plumber even came. 
Ivan Dolido. Photo: Bjorn Bolinder.
The self-involved Matt’s been having relationship problems with Anna, who—despite his demurrals—has plenty of evidence that he’s not sufficiently invested in her. When Matt visits his therapist (also played by Mr. Prescod), they talk about the relationship, but once again, the conversation shifts from one level of reality to another. Things get weirder when the therapist brings up the toilet problem, something he’d have no way of knowing about, and Matt then talks of being able to swim down the pipes to where he feasted with an ancient, subterranean civilization of beautiful toilet creatures (although all I can think of is anthropomorphic turds). Theres probably a metaphor here, but its as murky as whatevers lurking in the head (or should that be Matt’s head?).
After this, Anna tells Matt about a coworker with whom she’s slept, to which Matt responds with a bizarre penis-envy rant; Matt produces a brilliant painting of his underground feast that his agent, Jeff (again, Mr. Prescod), raves over, until there’s yet another reality slippage concerning the painting’s subject; Matt, identifying himself only as a plumber, directly confronts Anna’s coworker/lover, Connor (Mr. Prescod once more), outside a bar; and Matt and Anna’s relationship is resolved. 
Ivan Bolinder. Photo: Bjorn Bolinder.
Toward the end, the toilet, mostly unseen earlier, takes a prominent place on the darkened stage, its bowl brightly lit from inside, and we move into semi-phantasmagorical territory, with the apartment lit mainly by flashlights as . . . well, I won’t divulge what happens other than to note that it involves a creature from the white commode.  

As I write this, I realize how silly it all sounds. Nevertheless, the actors, playing everything straight, are sufficiently nuanced to suck you into their eerie little world; when we get to the scary concluding scenes, however, its so hard to see what's going on that the chilling climax is more or less flushed away.

A note: Productions at the Flea, especially those devoted to the Bats, the theatre’s resident acting company, often begin with a cast member making a brief speech of welcome to the audience, asking them to turn off their cellphones, and so on. This little custom can be a little distracting, especially when the actor, as here, must immediately switch from being our host to playing the leading role. Why not give the task to someone with a smaller role who doesn't appear until later in the play? Just askin . . . 

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