A TRIUMPHANT FLY TO BUZZ ABOUT
I won’t try to tell you the plot of Anger/Fly, other than that a fly lands in soup and the world ends. In Theatre of the Absurd, plot is rarely the point – and even if it is, it’s nearly unintelligible. The setting and the characters, too, are lost. There was a fly, there was soup, there were three deranged couples, a terrifyingly peppy television announcer, a tramp who loved a lamppost, and some pre-pubescent boy repressing the desire to pick his nose. It makes about as little sense to me as it does to you at this point. But understanding it is irrelevant. Created for Trap Door Theatre, this world premiere of Anger/Fly takes the audience on a journey far beyond the bounds of lucidity, and the result is a visceral and truly stunning experience. This is Theatre of the Absurd done right. (For further elucidation on Theatre of the Absurd, or Existentialism 101, click here.)
Director Kate Hendrickson collaborated with playwright Ruth Margraff, who adapted Anger/Fly from from an eight-page film scenario by Eugene Ionesco entitled La Colère (Anger). Anger/Fly stays true to Ionesco’s iconical style of absurdism, that which is meant to illustrate the most biting existential questions of mankind, and also comment on the incongruity and ludicrousness of human existence. While billed as a “dark absurdist comedy,” the show could just as easily be subtitled a farce, as the evening incorporates physical humor, the use of deliberate absurdity, and broadly stylized performances. Nonetheless, the comedy here is the result of the unnerving and at times terrifying unfolding of events, using laughter as a vehicle to deliver some grotesque truths about humanity.
Hendrickson’s direction is a delightful flurry of constant motion. In the style of silent films, the stage is all white and the actors don farcical, expressionist poses throughout the piece. In her extremely inventive staging, there is always something eye-grabbing to watch. You simply can’t take it all in, as there are always five or more things happening right in front of you at once, all of which are equally engaging. Hendrickson has the barren stage exploding with colorful characters – and then later has the show literally explode in colored paint, splattering the walls and a few audience members; when this happens, the production splashes into vibrant, enthralling pandemonium (the paint is washable and non-toxic).
Hendrickson’s theatrical fantasia is driven by a cast that is wholly committed to the chaos. As the tramp, the fly, and a multitude of other characters, Antonio Brunetti captivates the audience with an intense, highly physical performance, leaping across the many levels of Mike Mroch’s set. Sometimes Brunetti is gleeful and comedic, other times volatile and terrifying. Even as the fly, it is hard to look away from Brunetti as he drenches the space with his raw, passionate performance.
As Lady TV, Maria Stephens walks a similar line. Her face, hidden by sparkling sunglasses, is ubiquitous within the space as she constantly announces good news from several different television screens (video designer Michal Janicki). Even though she barely moves through the whole show, Stephens has the audience entirely in her control with an exceptionally unnerving smile. She is giggly, but takes on a grotesque, dystopian feel that fills the room with a certain anxiety, even as she (literally) fills the room with bubbles.
While these performances stand out, the rest of the ensemble absolutely shines and deserves mention by name: Tiffany Bedwell, Casey Chapman, Anya Clingman, David A. Holcombe, Emily Lotspeich, David Steiger, and Bob Wilson.
Running at only about 70 minutes, there is never a dull moment . Yet it also doesn’t feel short. The play jolts so between the extremes of slapstick and monstrous farce that much longer would have been exhausting, but shorter would have been disappointing. Anger/Fly dabbles you in the insanity just long enough to make you feel as if you’ve had a full meal, without dragging you down in its mania.
Perhaps what is most incredible about this show is that the remarkably talented cast and crew donate their both talent and their time. Any profits they get are not from ticket sales, but from additional audience donations. The proceeds from the bar for the night go to fund European tours for Trap Door Theatre’s work. Taking on an art-for-art’s-sake philosophy, this literal hole-in-the-wall theatre (you have to walk through the kitchen of a restaurant to get there) is delivering a stunning, avant-garde production, and asking for little in return. Everyone at this theatre seems to have an immense love for what they are doing, and this passion is channeled into an incredible, multifaceted theatrical experience. Whether you like Theatre of the Absurd or not, Trap Door Theatre’s world premiere of Anger/Fly is worth supporting, worth seeing, and is truly an inventive, unparalleled work of art.
photos by Michal Janicki
Trap Door Theatre in Chicago
scheduled to end on June 30, 2012
for tickets, call 773-384-0494 or visit http://www.trapdoortheatre.com
for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit http://www.TheatreinChicago.com