The Day the Universe Came Closer
nytheatre.com review by Ross Chappell
August 13, 2006
I was enthusiastic about the concept of The Day the Universe Came Closer: oddities of existence, physics, perception, and emotional attachment as the subjects of a single performance intrigued me. Unfortunately, this show does not live up to its potential. Admittedly, this is not material for a wide audience. Many people would find these mental meanderings too heavy-handed and a bit boring. However, with the right audience and the right performer, this show could work as an idiosyncratic, experimental piece. The writing is sound and interesting, at least to people who ponder the greater implications of existence, and even to some who don't.
Hiram Pines's challenging material includes discussions of rectangles as elements of the world that originate within us, sunlight converting to happiness within us at the cellular level, and borders as both real and imaginary lines. If we are moving at thousands of miles per second through the galaxy, why don't we fall down? He poses questions about the nature of God and life; his concept of water being one big ocean that surrounds us and is part of us ("we're 70% water") did indeed cause me to ponder reality. The answers to the questions are not the point of this piece. It's all about perception and feeling. This viewpoint is what allows the interjection of humor in strategic places, but it needs a bit more humor to be approachable to a wider audience.
The major problem with this particular performance is that the writer performs the piece. I like his writing and his style, but he's simply not up to the task of effectively performing this work. His vocal patterns, line deliveries, physicality, and gestures are extremely repetitive and get in the way of the words, the thoughts, and the humor. I think I would enjoy hearing him deliver a lecture on these topics—I sense that he would be animated and engaging. He just seems drastically out of his element in attempting to act out his work.
Jessica Porter's direction is fairly solid but is frequently undermined by Pines's awkward performance. While spotlights are used effectively, the lighting is too often odd and distracting. Since Pines never really freezes between the scenes, leaving the lights up the entire time would be a better choice. It's such a short show (40 minutes) that the breaks really are not necessary anyway.
My advice to Pines would be to look for ways to inject more humor into his work. His pleasant look at tiny benign aliens who've come to study us provide a wonderful moment, as does his comment about whizzing around the universe at thousands of miles per second yet feeling nothing: "I could get some sleep on this flight." Having accomplished that, he should turn the script over to an actor who does solo performance well and then simply stand back and see where it goes. It could be a marvelous, perspective-shifting ride.