I Stand for Nothing
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
July 15, 2009
Eric Bland is turning into the Woody Allen of his generation, possibly: his plays encapsulate the twentysomething experience of the children of Baby Boomers cannily, intelligently, and hilariously, exploring simultaneously the urban angst of the lonely and the lovelorn and the shapeless anomie of the concerned-but-not-quite-active activist. One woman in I Stand for Nothing says (to her therapist):
My ex-boyfriend's number appeared as a missed call on my cell phone. It rang once. Does Kant have anything to say about thinking your ex called, then hung up cause he meant to call his new girlfriend, and now they're having amazing sex?
and another woman says (to her grandmother):
Everything is being radicalized. It's all going to extremes. French workers are locking their bosses in their offices as hostages. There are riots in Greece. Israel is drifting to the far-Right. Iran is imploding in a sea of green. China has millions of peasants wandering the country. Pakistan is becoming Afghanistan. The Sandanistas are back in power in Nicaragua. If we're going to act and change everything we need to do it now, because soon enough everyone will think they're happy again.
Being happy, being fulfilled, being useful, being loved...these are the themes of I Stand for Nothing, a microcosm of every young city-dweller's life and very specifically of just one young city dweller's life, presented in stream-of-consciousness and proudly low-tech theatre style. The play takes the form of a string of vignettes, most of them sketches involving sets of characters (who all share the same names as the actors who play them); we return to these various characters—some of whom know each other and the rest of whom bump into each other—as an afternoon morphs into a night and then a very late night and then a new morning.
The writing is generally breathtaking and often quite funny. Bland makes leaps that frequently astonish, as when a surreal plot point involving the demolition of a wall separating two apartments is exploited several scenes later to justify a "mirror act" (the old vaudeville bit that Lucille Ball and Harpo Marx did memorably on I Love Lucy). The play is unabashedly self-referential (for example, the name of actor Rich Lovejoy is at the root of several comic interludes) and irredeemably referential (eclectically riffing on everything and anything from Wittgenstein to Lydia's Italian Kitchen to The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee).
Bland also directs, and he does so fluidly and imaginatively. He announces to us from the outset that the show is 100% live, alluding to the multimedia theatricks that usually characterize work in the Ontological's Incubator Series—the focus on actors, words, and audience is refreshing. A huge company of 15 perform the piece: the aforementioned Lovejoy and Bland himself are joined by Anne Carlisle, Siobhan Doherty, Charlie Hewson, Gavin Starr Kendall, Margaret Laney, Jesse Liebman, Maggie Marion, Timothy John McDonough, Megan McGowan, Iracel Rivero, Joey Ryan, Victoria Tate, and (briefly) Scott Eckert. Everyone of these talented performers has at least one occasion here to shine.
Indeed, in the final analysis, though I Stand for Nothing illuminates mood and personality quite brilliantly, its overall shapelessness makes it feel more like a showcase for talented young artists than a completely formed play. The text drifts without ever really resolving itself; the cast and the audience seemed to get second and third winds as the show ambled into its fourth half hour, but I sensed restlessness and tiredness as well, for the piece is just too long.
But there's so much here that dazzles, in Bland's writing and in the finely tuned performances of this excellent ensemble. I Stand for Nothing is provocative and thoughtful summer festival fare that makes you eager to sample whatever its creators come up with next.