High Thames: Part V


It’s in the Bag: First Night

Have now traded light London fog for oppressive New York humidity, but a few shows remain unremarked. Last Sunday I saw a piece by Forced Entertainment, a collaborative theater company much admired in England, but largely unknown here. (P.S.122 did host a show of theirs a few years ago). Having read and heard so much about them, I entered the Toynbee Studios with ridiculously high expectations, which weren’t disappointed.

First Night is largely an exercise of theatrical bad faith between actors and audience. A cast of seven is dressed in sequins and shiny suits, sporting polished suits and lots of eye make-up, but they largely refuse to entertain. Their gestures are mechanical, their smiles a distressing rictus. They purport to perform a series of music hall variety acts, songs, dances, comic sketches, but these activities are thwarted and warped. During a mentalist act, one of the performers takes of her blindfold and begins calmly forecasting the means of death for nearly everyone in the audience, a few hundred people. (I’m due for a brain hemorrhage, apparently.)

Rarely has the actor/audience relationship seemed so strained, so nasty, so desperate and parasitic. As spectators, we’re forced to endure the failed, the fruitless, the cruel. And we applaud it. In the play’s final moments, as the performers wave goodbye, one exhorts us, “Ladies and Gentlemen, don’t drive home safely. Drive as fast as you can.”

A much safer entertainment is Marc Camoletti’s Boeing Boeing, revived by director Matthew Warchus….

It begins promisingly, with ya-ya music and cheerful lighting buoying the pre-show mood, but the play soon descends from the insouciant to the formulaic. It’s all acted bouncily, but the structure betrays a great rigidity. (It makes great sense that Warchus’s previous success was with Yasmina Reza’s Art, another mechanical French comedy.) The farce concerns a successful Frenchman who discreetly balances three girlfriends, each a hostess on a different national airline, each believing she’s the only amour. Owing to scheduling difficulties they all descend on the apartment at once on the apartment. It all plays out just as predictably, if amiably, as one might believe. The only surprising element–the stewardesses’ suitcases are the root of many funny moments. That’s right: Three travelers and not a single lost bag among them.