Strangers and Linguish, as part of the NEUROfest by Untitled Theater Company #61 = one part Twilight Zone, one part Kafka, and a whole lot of mind games …this makes for one cerebral evening of theater.
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Untitled Theater Company #61 is no stranger to a series, having put on both the 24/7 and the Ionesco Festivals, respectively; their latest offering is NEUROfest, a series of plays with the common theme of neurological disorders. In addition to original theater – running the gamut from musicals to found text to multimedia - seminars concerning the particular diseases – running the gamut from Tourette’s to Mad Cow - will be held in conjunction with certain performances: panels featuring both neurologists and playwrights. My particular viewing included the one-acts Strangers and Linguish, both penned and directed by UTC artistic director Edward Einhorn.
Strangers, an eerie and inevitably Kafka-esque scenario between a man and a woman in a waiting room, is a head tingling depiction of amnesia’s devastation. The dialogue is a slow burn of wit, un-canniness, seduction, and just the right amount of heart-wrenching. Aesthetically, the blaring sterility of Alexander Senchak’s set and fluorescent lighting illuminated the chill of the scene quite nicely (and I couldn’t help but be reminded of Richard Maxwell’s signature style).
The second half of the evening – Linguish – is slow to build, but once it does, it maintains an engaging velocity. Appropriating the classic science fiction / horror scenario of “the freak epidemic”, four strangers are quarantined together against a nasty outbreak of aphasia, a neurological disorder that affects language abilities. Their hysteria in close quarters postulates: will English become a dead language through misuse? Think Twilight Zone meets a linguistics textbook, as viewed through a playwright’s delicate lense - an episodic investigation into their surrender to the euphoria of untamed speech. As another detainee fittingly queries (though in reference to a botched round of pinochle), “If it’s a good game, who cares if we’re playing by the right rules?” Point taken.
The uniting link between the two one acts is actor Peter Bean, the star of the evening in caliber as well as in recurrence. In Strangers, he possesses an unsettling, calm-before-the-storm quality, as well as a muted sensuality, that makes him a fun and unpredictable fixation; in Linguish, he anchors the chaos around him – of course, it helps that he gets to utter some of the most penetrating lines of the piece. Of particular note is his musings on the etymology of “apple”; one can’t help but be even a little inspired.
Hats off to Einhorn and company for initiating such a fresh and innovative festival; if the other offerings of NEUROfest are as novel and cerebral as Strangers and Linguish, one might be obligated to make repeat visits.
Visit www.untitledtheater.com/NEUROfest.html for a complete listing of performances and seminars, as days and times vary.
311 W. 43rd Street
Runs through January 29th.
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.