nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
September 18, 2008
Mac Wellman's new theatre piece 1965UU feels much more like a short story than a play. That's probably because that's what it is, or at least what it was: it's adapted from an imaginary history of an asteroid (hence the title), one of the tales collected in his new book A Chronicle of the Madness of Small Worlds.
And the writing is marvelous: Wellman spins a detailed fantastical tale about a world with an ultra-slick surface where there's only one rule (but that rule changes every time we look at it). We learn things about this asteroid but mostly we learn about the unrequited affections of one of its hapless citizens and the seemingly can't-miss plan he devises to win the woman he loves.
The language is dense and the wordplay is thrilling; it cries out to be savored, to be read and re-read, and more than once I caught myself replaying something that caught my attention in my head, only to realize that I'd missed whatever was happening on stage in the ensuing moments.
It's performed by Paul Lazar, who is best known as the co-founder of Big Dance Theater; here, under the minimalist direction of Steve Mellor, he is mostly stationary, telling the story of 1965UU from a chair that he either sits in or stands before for most the performance. (His movement is depicted, when he makes his one grand gesture, by another actor pulling that chair off to the edge of the stage, like a moving backdrop framing someone running in place.)
Heather Christian reads some self-referential narration, and Ed Jewett, Daniel Manley, and Kate Marks portray other inhabitants of the asteroid, and they have the bulk of the non-static portions of the show (including a much-too-close-for-comfort stint involving a noisy machine—whose actual name I'm afraid I do not know—making scratches on a hard metal surface, with sparks flying this way and that). I was disappointed overall in the lack of physicality in the piece, not to mention the concomitant lack of dynamism in the staging.
In fact, 1965UU doesn't feel like a very convincing theatricalization of Wellman's writing at all: rather, it plays like a recitation with a few gimmicks tacked on. The staging doesn't realize the work enough to hold our interest or to explain anything; and the text rolls by so quickly that it doesn't fully register and certainly doesn't enchant the way, I am sure, it does from the printed page.