Making Nice

The Secret

Red Eye


Jungle Theater Late Night

          ONE OF THE many sage truisms my mother Myrna taught me is that if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. Maybe your mother taught you the same thing. But in the high-pressure and super-high-profile field of theater reviewing, that's a difficult dictum to abide. So much bad art, so many half-pages to fill. In the recent past, I've erred and I've strayed and I fear I've let momma down. Accordingly, I here proffer a partial (but by no means comprehensive) catalog of mean-spirited adjectives and adjectival phrases I will not be using to describe Red Eye's latest production, The Secret: Inane, irrelevant, insultingly obscure, pointless, senseless, egregious, boring, boring, boring, boring, tiring, tired, glib, facile, a little dopey, preposterous, creatively fallow, uninspiring, arguably uninspired, tedious, incredible, did I say boring?, and maybe just really dumb.

          The gentler word for The Secret is: fantastic. No believable characters, no plausible dialogue, no problem! You heard it here first--The Secret is a fantasia for fantasts. Given thematically empty mise-en-scène and a glut of gratuitous video effects, I'll submit that Red Eye sure continues to fantasticate with the best of them!

          The Secret is William Randall Beard and Steve Busa's modern adaptation of The Makroupolis Secret, originally written by Czech author Karel Capek (better known, perhaps, for having invented the word "robot" in his 1921 sci-fi play Rossum's Universal Robots). The titular secret refers (I think) to a potion for immortality (c.f. Ponce de León, alchemy of the ancients, et cetera). From the opening narration, we learn that shrewd chanteuse Emilia Marty alpha-tested said elixir for her court-chemist father a few centuries back; at the play's beginning, its effects are going Dorian Gray. However, a largely superfluous cast of kooks stands between Marty and her pharmacy refill: Janek, a disinherited depressive; Vitek, the agent of an oft-mentioned but unseen attorney; Baron von Prus, a wretched trader in possession of both Janek's family will and the formula; and other human extranea.

          According to the program notes, Beard and Busa's script "look[s] to... writers such as Patricia Highsmith, Raymond Carver [!] and Jim Thompson," while "intentionally setting the piece in a strange off-kilter amoral universe, where all the characters do battle with the shadows that constantly lurk just beyond the fringe of everyday existence." In practice, this apparently translates into glib dialogue and video simulcasts of simulated fellatio. Also: Surf music; well-crafted, adaptable, and modular set pieces; dance numbers; and a prominently-displayed stuffed lynx that serves no known purpose and receives no explanation.

          Perhaps the lynx (which may, in fact, be a fox) represents the taxidermic agents employed by the Red Eye to preserve their rotting aesthetic. It must be several years now since any Red Eye production bothered to suspend the audience's disbelief--an outdated and overrated notion, perhaps--and probably just as long since an actor on its stage looked as if she really believed in any given line of dialogue. Like Emilia Marty, this shtick is not aging well. Leading the lackadaisical charge, as usual, is the Red Eye's High Queen of Irony, Miriam Must. As with the nuanced, plaintive monotone of Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant, Must's voice alone speaks to shades of ambiguity and ennui too coded and complex ever
to decipher.

          Irony, I sometimes think, is like an Ace bandage for the scarred psyche; it dissembles pain at the same time as it attracts attention. But exactly what wound--what raw and terrible truth--Red Eye is masking with their hermetic mummy-wrapping
of theatrical pretension, I do not know. Frankly, I suspect that they don't know either; the secret to The Secret is that they've forgotten what they're hiding.

          Where Red Eye's production neglects the inner life at its own creative peril, Derek Hughes's Dreams simplifies self-knowledge with endearing naiveté. Hughes, who calls himself an "experience" artist, is a likable young storyteller and magician; Dreams explores the experiences of a painter and his relationship to his audience and his muse. As is well-known, fledgling artists often receive hackneyed advice (only slightly more hackneyed than if you don't have anything nice to say...) to write what you know. Many a performer, having strip-mined her domestic biography--lousy report cards, pet deaths, outcast relatives--then turns to her present life: her identity as an artist. Here, the fallacy. What often follows is an unsophisticated and unintentionally self-indulgent exploration of a subject that sounds affected in the abstract and unimportant in the particular.

          And yet, working within these thematic confines, Hughes has composed a surprisingly entertaining piece. In assorted sketches, he displays a knack for quiet characterization, while his low-key tricks--disappearing guinea pigs, phantom flip books, teleporting paint brushes--also manifest an understated charm. What this act ultimately conjures is an abundance of good will; though the written analysis may miss the mark, artistry is in sleight of hand. CP

          The Secret runs through November 3 at Red Eye; call 870-0309. Dreams runs through November 9 at Jungle Theater Late Nite; call 822-7063.

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