There’s one thing to be said for auteur director John Jahnke’s The Archery Contest: It discovers the sex of stage design. At the play’s start, prophylactic walls gird the playing area to waist-height, and matching black panels press down from above. Slowly, over the next 100 minutes, this set (designed by Peter Ksander) will crack open like a secret swamp-blossom. Panels will part, and the floor will open to mirrored depths: a scenic striptease.
Brilliant installation art it is, beautifully conceived and executed, but with a hollow dramatic center. Jahnke’s script centers on a minister and his wife, each straining under the monotheistic, monogamous monotony of bourgeois life. Luckily for them, the fertility festival has arrived, and with it a pair of innocents and their creepy, pansexual warden. The resulting “comedy,” as Jahnke calls it, lies somewhere between the saccharine sexcapades of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the dark, sexual sacrifice of Miss Julie.
Jahnke wants the ellipticalness of symbolist drama, but achieves mere circularity, returning to the most tired clichés of seduction and decadence: love among the tombstones, berry stains on milk-white skin, blood stains on wedding dresses. Absent dazzling thematic insight (and there is none), a script like this can be neither dated nor fresh: It is agelessly dull.