Richard Maxwell, irreverent theater deconstructionist extraordinaire, focuses his satirical eye on the banality of violence and the true nature of security in "The End of Reality", his latest work at the Kitchen.
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To have such a clearly recognized style is an homage to the ground-breaking and paradoxical methods of most unconventional playwright Richard Maxwell, to whom all things distinctly “anti-theater” are attributed. Fluorescent lights, lethargic delivery, the most mundane of dialogue, sometimes no more than half hearted non-sequiturs…and yet all the trappings of the quintessential bad play have become essential devices in some of the most eloquent and understated staged works in recent history. In past productions like "House" (1998), "Showy Lady Slipper" (1999), "Good Samaritans" (2004), and even a staging of Shakespeare’s "Henry IV" (at BAM, 2003), Maxwell provides a blank canvas, with paper doll actors for his audience to project upon - allowing the subjectivity of one’s viewing to color in that third dimension. If you happen to get the heartstrings tugged or the funny bone tickled, that’s your doing, not his. The playwright merely presents cross sections of the most ordinary aspects of our culture, employing his methods of deconstruction to turn the familiar, and even unnoticed, into new, uncanny territory.
His newest work keeps the signature style in full effect: in "The End of Reality", guards- indicated by numbers as opposed to names - secure a building against intruders. What the nature of that being guarded is, or the intent of those that intrude, is never really determined, but that’s besides the point; what matters more are the lackluster and elliptical conversations that while the time at the guard station. "1" (Thomas Bradshaw) extols upon the importance of rules and procedure, quotes the Bible often, and bemoans the erosion of the neighborhood. He wants to be in a movie – even a small part – so he’ll live forever. His goddaughter, "5" (Marcia Hidalgo), a temporary security fill-in, and eventually the emotional epicenter of the piece – if such bold terminology could be applied - deadpans on family, God, and the horoscopes. "2" (Brian Mendes), with a clipped tone and appropriately understated swagger, speaks of his headshots, his sneaker collection, his new initiation into love. Security camera images flicker in and out in the background; static images of people appear in the frame, only to disappear in segments. The guards’ inane ramblings appear to be just as flat and dispensable, but somehow stumble onto unanticipated lucidity, as is the usual M.O. of a Maxwell production.
However, what separates "The End of Reality" from its predecessors is that the ramblings, besides satirizing, attempt to harness the mystical that surrounds the mundane, using language’s own inefficiency to make some sort of definitions out of “Faith” and “Fear”. These two rather unclear concepts have emerged as rather culturally pertinent in recent times, where we – maybe as a nation, maybe as believers - have come to question what it is we “secure” ourselves against. In the ambiguity of Maxwell’s presentation, this could be the most damning, and the most insightful, depiction of the current state of national affairs…that is, if we choose to construe it that way.
Detractors and Devil’s Advocates have questioned how long Maxwell can employ the same staging concepts before they tire; with "The End of Reality", the tradition pushes past tongue-in-cheek American satire and explores the impetus behind it - what justifies this daily ordinariness, what keeps us going. The idea of fate being in control re-emerges continuously throughout the piece, which is magnified by the non-committal manner of speaking - in the face of the unstoppable inertia of love, violence, time, change…all we can really do is talk at each other about it.
And then there are the fight scenes. The guards engage in full combat with those that intrude, and blood even makes an appearance…but contenders quietly and clumsily kick, jump, roll and slap; the cinematic, grandiose fantasies of violence are mimicked in marital arts poses, as well as the cocky machismo of Mendes, sputtering tough guy lines upon a victorious match…but in the end, fighting is not nearly so exciting as the movies. Violence enters, it exits, and even with blood-splattered faces, the guards don’t really raise an eyebrow about it. It has become as routine in daily affairs as talking.
"I don't care if it happens to everyone, it's new to me,” laments a lovelorn Mendes, in surprisingly uncharacteristic passion, another element that separates this production from Maxwell’s former works - at some points, voices are raised, and even some set pieces are upended. However, even for these flashes of real emoting, like the Shakespearean "sound and the fury", it signifies nothing in the end. Mendes’ assertion could give the best summation of Richard Maxwell’s universe: we only recognize our own fears and thoughts, coloring only our own lives with a third dimension... and without any real connections forged between us, there are only collisions.
The End of Reality
@ The Kitchen
512 W. 19th Street (btw. 10th and 11th Ave.)
Runs until January 29th.
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