nytheatre.com review by Hilary Krishnan
April 26, 2011
In the future, we are rationed a single ply of toilet paper per bathroom visit, our brains are frozen awaiting new host bodies, and a simple rain shower is enough to painfully burn flesh. It’s a bleak landscape, but in Laurel Haines’s Future Anxiety, there’s room for lots of laughs. Haines wants us to think critically about what we are doing today that will negatively impact our future. She does so through a patchwork of different stories, the perfect form for this kind of storytelling, a fragmented reality of what is to come. None of the scenes, however, ever goes very deep below the surface, and the play ends up feel like an evening of sketch comedy. The play’s series of fast-paced vignettes are brought to life by an all-star ensemble of young actors, The Flea’s resident Bats. While the cast does a truly remarkable job, the play itself often falls flat. Crafted with predictable jokes and heavy-handed social commentary, there aren’t many surprises. Some scenes drag on well after they have made their point. While the play lacks faith in its audience to keep up, the actors do a delightful job instilling faith in us about our next generation of theater artists.
The landscape of this dystopian society is performed across the stage’s many interesting playing areas. Many suspended platforms spiral into the air in different directions. The various levels are a very creative and interesting use of space and budget, and a beautiful medium for evocative staging. The space is utilized very well and Jim Simpson’s direction helps to keep the momentum of the play moving forward, despite the play’s flaws. The droning sounds of Jazz trio Medeski, Martin, and Wood help build a sensual and futuristic aural landscape, setting the mood for this dystopian world.
While the characters are often broadly drawn and stereotypical, there was one story line that repeatedly piqued my interest. Commander Li of the Chinese Army is responsible for an American prisoner, a poet, and throughout play the two fuel each other’s desires to change and open up to one another. Li, played flawlessly by Holly Chou, struggles with a duality that many can relate to: the need to develop a protective outer shell and a longing to share her softer side with the world. There is a beautiful chemistry and dynamic relationship between Li and the American slave Malcolm, played by Raul Sigmund Julia. These qualities are not only found in the performances of Chou and Julia, but present in every actor in the ensemble. The Bats are a dedicated, talented, and passionate bunch. It seems a shame to me that they have not given a more challenging story to tell. In the end, Future Anxiety has the greatest of intentions and a wealth of potential, but it greatly underestimates its ensemble and audience.