The Joys of Fantasy
nytheatre.com review by E. Michael Lockley
July 11, 2009
Scott and Teri love each other. One day Michael, who might be Scott's brother, calls Teri and tells her that after tonight she will never see Scott again. Scott comes home, he and Teri get into an argument, Scott says he has to leave, so Teri tells him that he can't leave. She explains that Michael called and said Scott wouldn't come back, but Scott insists on leaving and so he walks out. This seems to be the core conflict of the story in Mitchell Polin's The Joys of Fantasy. Unfortunately this specific narrative happens in about 10-15 minutes and the rest of the nearly two-hour play is spent in an abstract time-space continuum that includes narrators, telephones and microphones, and Teri falling down a well. Meanwhile the play and its characters unsuccessfully attempt to tackle themes of reality, loneliness, death, fate, memory, and love lost.
Ordinary Theater, the company behind the show, aims to deconstruct traditional theater, and The Joys of Fantasy is something they wanted to title "Our Town Revisited." But Our Town was praised for its experimental and reflexive nature, with the essential story of love and loss still at the heart of the play. Meanwhile, The Joys of Fantasy, both written and directed by Polin, feels lost in a world of performers commenting on performance for an audience that is strung along for an unfulfilling conclusion. Scott and Teri's love story is apparent, but quickly becomes overwhelmed by the constant commentary from all the other characters. Our Town's story at its most basic level is about love, the love for one another, and a love of life. Unfortunately there is little to love or even care about in this production.
Multimedia is utilized, but its purpose in terms of storytelling is unclear. The advent of technology has made it so that video, projections, photo slideshows etc. are becoming a larger part of live theater. This is always most engaging when its use moves the story forward, when it reveals a character's "real" thoughts or when it creates a set—ultimately when it expands an audience's knowledge of the world the play would like to create. Sadly, the screen on the back wall here is used most often to add slow-motion color and lighting effects to live scenes. For me as an audience member these effects didn't set a mood or seem to comment on the characters, they just seemed to be there. Despite this fact, one thing that is consistent is the music's subtle underscoring. The music by Tungsten 74 supports the contemplative, somber tone of the play, and isn't overwhelming, although sometimes the actors seemed to forget that they needed to speak over it.
One of the most telling lines from the play is when one of the narrators stated, "Hopefully people will understand for themselves who we are and make up their own stories . . . In this case using people's imagination is more exciting than anything." So I'm left to believe that this production was somehow depending on its audience to create an interesting show, all in the name of imagination. However, leading people's imagination is what makes good storytelling. Quite often I felt that themes and ideas were thrown at me, with unclear narrative and underaddressed, inconsistent concepts. My imagination was lost and quite frankly gave up by the second act.