nytheatre.com review by Kevin Connell
August 11, 2006
He is an anthropologist unearthing the past. He is a witness giving testimony. He is a writer generating poetry and short stories. He is a teller of tales, a scribe, a collector, a sponge, a gentle soul. And he is a proud son of a garbage man.
In Garbage Boy we get Christopher Millis's account of fathers and sons as he tells a story of yesterday and tomorrow, linking history with possibility. Garbage Boy is Millis's chronicle of growing up in a family of eight kids with an Italian father and an Irish mother. It's a story about a family secret—and loss of life—and recovery.
Millis is a man of words—words worthy of being published by the likes of The New Yorker or being heard on NPR. He is truly an exceptional writing talent. His phrasings are insightful, and they are searching, and discovering, and validating. I want to read them. I want to close my eyes and hear them. And it was important that I had this opportunity to experience them.
But is Garbage Boy good theatre? Is it well-conceived as a performance piece? I think there are problems here. Ashley Lieberman's direction fails to unite the script, the performer, and the technical elements into one cohesive theatrical event. Clair Evans's lighting design lacks any logic or metaphorical support. And the sound design (uncredited) is far too loud and intrusive. Why is it necessary to be excessively theatrical with lights and sound when there is already illumination and music in the writing? Trust the source material. It is already stageworthy.
Unfortunately, Millis the actor is trapped in a world of unmotivated light with strange blackouts and sound that cuts off without any finesse, and has been given blocking that only indicates the action of the words he is speaking. Just because you mention a fishing rod doesn't mean you have to pick up a fishing rod. I'm not trying to be mean or disrespectful; it's just that I respect wholeheartedly Millis's writing and his good intentions. Unfortunately, Lieberman's direction lacks the sophistication to shape Millis' prolific writing, his somewhat limited abilities as an actor, and the production's design elements into a fully realized production.
On the postcard for this production, Millis is compared to Eric Bogosian and David Sedaris. But, after seeing the production, I can tell you that this is not accurate. Millis is not speed metal sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Nor is he frenetic and clipped in his funny musings on life. That's not the man I saw on stage. I saw a soft-spoken, tender man of even temperament. I saw the embodiment of yin and yang—a perfectly muscled man's-man completely in touch with his emotional self. If there is a comparison—it's Spalding Gray. And there are lessons to be learned by the integrity of Gray's work that could help this production. First of all, sit still. Let the words be the main character. Simply tell the story. Let Millis be the anthropologist, the witness, the poet, the son. It is enough. Have Millis sit or stand in the midst of the art installation of collected garbage representing his father, and grandfather, and so many other lives lived. Let light glow like angels wings supporting their captain. And above all, trust the imagination of the audience to fill in the gaps.