Sunday, March 5, 2017

146. Review: OMEGA KIDS (seen March 2, 2017)

“Coupla Nerds Sitting Around Talking”

My vaunted superpowers as a roving reviewer failed me miserably this week as I sought to attend Omega Kids, a new play by Noah Mease at the Access Theater in Tribeca. On my first attempt, on Thursday night, the fellow who brought me and my companion up via the freight elevator (the theatre is on the fourth floor but we chose not to take the stairs) ushered us into a lobby where we got our programs (no tickets) from a young woman at a desk. 

Will Sarratt, Fernando Gonzalez. Photo: Hunter C
Stupidly, neither my friend nor I—engaged in conversation—had bothered looking at the program, so just before the lights went down we realized we were about to see, not Omega Kids but something called Dark Eyes. It was too late to flee but thankfully Dark Eyes (no comment) went dark after 45 minutes. 
Fernando Gonzalez, Will Sarratt. Photo: Hunter Canning.
The Black Box is one of two Access theatres, the other, called the Gallery Space, being down the hall, so I returned there the next night, only to learn that Omega Kids, which had begun at 8:00 on Thursday, started at 7:30 on Friday. The house manager had us wait until a scene break before letting us take our seats, which happened about 10 minutes in. (My apologies to the actors.) Meanwhile, we were handed, in lieu of a conventional program, a professionally produced, 20-page, comic book on slick paper called “Omega Kids,” which would figure in the action. Its art work and story were by the evening's playwright. 
Will Sarratt, Fernando Gonzalez. Photo: Hunter Canning.
The venue itself is a square, ceilingless box of black soundproofing walls placed on a diagonal within a much larger room; the “lobby” is the area outside the box. A low black platform surrounds the square acting space, with a single row of around 32 uncomfortable, metal folding chairs, eight on each side. The platform is raised several inches so it can be lit from underneath, allowing for Scot Gianelli to create moody effects when the main lights dim. Brian Dudkiewicz’s set—apart from the room itself—is nothing but an off-white carpet on which are scattered a table lamp, a backpack, a few pillows, and a terry cloth throw.
Fernando Gonzalez, Will Sarratt. Photo: Hunter Canning.
I have no idea if Mease, or director Jay Stull, is familiar with contemporary Japanese playwright/director Hirata Oriza’s “Quiet Theatre,” but Omega Kids seems, in some regards, like a modified version of it. In A Guide to the Japanese Stage critic Akihiko Senda describes Hirata’s work as the portrayal of “ordinary life directly on the stage with dialogues that dispassionately unfold as tender miniatures. . . . In Hirata’s plays actors speak almost in a whisper, and sometimes multiple conversations are held simultaneously. Stage sets are unchanging and there is no music. Hirata has said that he aims to avoid producing plays that assert any doctrine, striving instead to create dramas that directly portray the world.” 
Will Sarratt, Fernando Gonzalez. Photo: Hunter Canning.
If one tried, one could perhaps extract a “doctrine” from Omega Kids. For example, it could be seen as demonstrating the necessity lonely, repressed individuals feel to escape from their quotidian banality in the adventures of comic book superheroes. Or how aficionados of such cultural artifacts can, through their mutual appreciation of them, find ways to bond. 

And, while the set, such as it is, remains unchanged, there are many atmospheric lighting shifts, as well as an extensive use of interesting, mood-setting music by Tei Blow, especially between scenes. (Eben Hoffer did the effective sound design.)
Fernando Gonzalez, Will Sarratt. Photo: Hunter Canning.
In essence, though, Hirata would probably approve the main parameters of a play about two bored, inhibited young men, recent college graduates (who look and talk like high school students) named Michael. The one referred to as Mike (Fernando Gonzalez), a nickname he dislikes, is visiting the new, still unfurnished apartment of the other (Will Sarratt), somewhere near Boston. Barefoot and wearing t-shirts and baggy shorts, they do little more than hang out and get to know each other.

Mainly, this is through their shared familiarity with the fictional comic book series “Omega Kids” (something along the lines of the Omega Gang in Marvel’s “Wolverine” series, or other superhero teams, like "X-Men" and TV's Heroes); Michael, obsessed with the series, is its chief expositor, while Mike is his fascinated auditor. The guys met at some vaguely defined summer conference dealing with teens for whom they appear to have served as counselors.
Will Sarratt, Fernando Gonzalez. Photo: Hunter Canning.
In a series of slow, understated scenes separated by lighting cues denoting the passage of time over the course of a rainy, Saturday night, they sprawl, crawl, and lie on their bellies or backs, standing and walking only rarely, each move carefully calibrated (“movement” is by Katie Rose McLaughlin). Their dialogue is spoken in conversationally low, natural tones, sometimes whispered, forcing you to lean in to hear everything they’re saying.

Mease’s strongest contribution is his ability to capture the inanity of contemporary boyspeak with its likes, cools, you knows?, declarative sentences spoken as questions, and so on. Only occasionally do his characters sound like the well-educated college grads they’re supposed to be. Both actors deliver authentically naturalistic performances that only underscore their lack of charisma and further our ennui.

Michael and Mike never argue or raise their voices, and—while the exposition gradually gives us dribs and drabs that tell us something about them—the chief concern seems to be the guys’ place on the sexuality spectrum. There’s a subtextual homoerotic thing going on (something Michael even alludes to as a thematic construct readers read into comics) but very little of overt dramatic significance transpires, and not much appears to be at stake. This is accentuated by the actors’ desultory, deliberately anti-theatrical behavior and the endless pauses that occupy so much of the intermissionless, 95-minute play’s final scenes.
Will Sarratt, Fernando Gonzalez. Photo: Hunter Canning.
The “Omega Kids” comic book plotline is a generic, clichéd one that’s principally about two rival superheroes, Blazar, the good guy, and Smokefall, the villain, who compete in gathering teenagers with different superpowers to their respective sides.  We learn much more about the comic’s history, backstories, and reboots than we do about Michael and Mike. These fellows are “outsiders” who—despite whatever metaphorical connections they may have to the comic’s outsider characters, especially two guys that kiss—are so innocuous, colorless, and boring that when they fall asleep we feel like doing the same.
Fernando Gonzalez, Will Sarratt. Photo: Hunter Canning.
If you’re into comics and want a copy of a well-crafted one published specifically for a theatre production (at a reported cost of $2,000), you might want to pay Omega Kids a visit. Otherwise, I can’t think of any compelling reason to see it.


Access Theater/Gallery Space
380 Broadway
Through March 25