Spam emails are a form of cultural detritus peculiar to our globalized era: missives from afar that ensnare the lonely or desperate and inject noise into everyday communications. So suggests Argentine playwright Rafael Spregelburd in his fascinating “spoken opera,” Spam, now at Jack in a production directed by Samuel Buggeln. (The play was translated into English by Jean Graham-Jones.) Performed by a single actor with a musician-narrator-stagehand by his side, the piece uses the plight of an amnesia-stricken academic to meditate on the cultural garbage, fraud, and memory loss that contemporary capitalism creates.
We meet Monti (Vin Knight) in a Malta hotel room, wearing a tuxedo, unsure quite who he is or how he got there. Casting around for clues, he discovers a laptop whose email inbox reveals (probably) that he’s a professor of extinct languages, one who made his career by plagiarizing a student’s discoveries. Over the course of 31 loopy days — each a single scene, presented in nonchronological order — Monti attempts to understand his history and present circumstances while ruminating darkly on the existential strangeness of the world around him. (The whole thing is sort of Memento meets Notes From the Underground.) He discovers his own dabblings in internet fraud — both as a recipient and sender of spam — and recites text that’s been passed through Google Translate, rendering it both strangely literal and impossible to understand.
Such free-associative meanderings deliberately induce vertigo, but Spregelburd pulls the emotional threads together when Monti receives a real, ink-on-paper letter from his own past, leading to poignant revelations about who he really is. These final meditations are a moving reminder that all identities — not just those of the false correspondents cluttering our inboxes — are provisional, and they will make you grateful that Spregelburd’s own faraway missive made it here from Argentina.
Directed by Samuel Buggeln
505 1/2 Waverly Avenue, Brooklyn
Through April 30