Tuesday, August 30, 2011

CHAOS THEORY - 'The Chaotically Complete Collaboration Festival'

Forty actors. Two hours. 42nd Street. ...five thousand dollars?

Oh no! Has John Doyle reworked Mary Poppins as a minimalized chamber opera with forty non-equity actor-musicians set in a blood-soaked sanatorium?
Don't worry. You can relax. That hasn't happened...yet.
Instead, however, crashing the midtown party is the Chaotically Complete Collaboration Festival, a big group of friends putting on plays - middle school style. This inaugural festival showcased eight short plays by playwright Bill Daniel.

Daniel's plays are wackily subversive and peculiar, narrowly walking the line of being offensive. But this playwright's particular brand of offense has the tickling effect of making you question your own perhaps overblown prudishness.
"Why am I offended? Should I be offended? Am I that guy?"
However, while there were blips of joy to be gleamed from the crass and crude, the most intriguing vignettes commented in some way on grander universalities of life, rather than magnifying odd character ticks and traits. A few of the plays verged on being weird-for-the-sake-of-weird. I Like My Women Like I Like My...AIDS, por ejemplo.

A satisfying short play is a theatrical anomaly. To provide an audience with a pleasurable, well-rounded experience in ten or twenty minutes is damn near impossible. Think about it. Historically to fill a slot of time so minuscule that, today, most smartphone calendars won't even recognize, man has turned to prostitute; not play. However, Daniel, more often that not, succeeds in this endeavor, creating a few surprising gems. The plays, while not necessarily captivating, were unquestionably watchable and wielded the same sort of confusing intrigue as a trench coat kid. You know what I'm talking about... But the trouble lurked in how each individual pearl worked to form a necklace.

These small plays were not written to be performed together, a glaringly apparent truth. The forty characters paraded across the stage over the course of the two hours shared an all too similar voice and style, which became noticeable when exposed to it at length. With such a distinct style of humor, it was quite easy to spot the playwright peeking out from behind the character - if not jumping out into plain view.

Admittedly I was infrequently enrapt or enthralled by what I saw, occasionally even turned off, but the evening itself had a certain geniality to its ambiance. The production had an "act for your life!" quality that only young, right off the boat actors can believably emanate. While there are truly too many actors in the festival to dwell on the intricacies of individual performances, the company was uniformly chocked full of scrappy pluck and vigor. And there is something pleasantly refreshing about that. The festival jovially celebrated youth, rather than apologizing for it or deeming age some sort of insurmountable impediment - a welcome change from norm, which demonizes inexperience. Inexperience, if anything, is a gift, and exemplary theatre is born of it.

The Chaotically Complete Collaboration Festival smelled oddly and pungently of your average Fringe fair, however on a much more impressive scale and with a fabulously tongue-in-cheek venue location. You see, the New York International Fringe Festival is performed around and about the Lower East Side, the literal fringe of Manhattan. But Chaotically Complete performed at Theatre Row on 42nd Street, the moral center of theatre in the United States. With Spider-man: Turn Off The Dark only two blocks west, one wonders if a new generation of theatre-makers are starting a war.