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The play's not the thing

Epic's meandering trip to 'Fire Island'
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  June 18, 2013

 0621_Theater_fire_top.jpg
CONFUSED COUPLINGS Arruda and Sanphy. [Photo by Kevin Broccoli]

Historian Charles L. Mee is also a playwright with a lengthy list of works to his credit, but he could more accurately be called an anti-playwright. Having declared that “there is no such thing as an original play,” he has proceeded, typically, to assemble and reconstruct theater pieces from found texts.

The result is such works as Fire Island, which Epic Theatre Company is rendering (through June 22). It’s directed by Kate
Lester, who imaginatively choreographed the experimental rock musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, which the Wilbury Group staged last year.

Unfortunately, the reason this work makes such an effective anti-play is that it is almost entirely devoid of every element that makes plays so compelling — character development, building storyline, dramatic arc, insightful denouement. Nah. Any of that would be patronizing, bourgeois, insultingly interesting.

It doesn’t take a close reading of John Dewey’s Art As Experience to determine that effective storytelling requires structure and closure.

The program offers some orientation, quoting Mee as writing that the play “wants to feel like a single, continuous tracking shot, moving from couple to couple without a break.” The director adds, “We are voyeurs in this world, eavesdropping on private moments.” Lester underscores that motif by having the audience escorted around the wide hallway of Hope Artiste Village, encountering couples who proceed to do their little gavottes of approach or avoidance.

The trouble with eavesdropping on private moments, apart from inducing glowers, is that you are gathering fragments, and no matter how clever you are at collage, the result will be, well, fragmentary.

There are some brief set pieces, coherent mini-scenes, especially toward the end, when some relationships do settle into some sort of closure, lovers united or separated with finality.

The light tone is set right off the bat when Nikos (Nick Viau) goes up to a stranger, Lydia (Amanda Grossi), and says that he would like to marry her, though for the moment he’ll settle for “a courtship,” declaring, “I want a love that consumes my whole life.” She’s surprised but not alarmed, though he doesn’t leave much space in his monologue for her to say much of anything. She excuses herself to go off for coffee.

That exchange is followed by a similar proposal, somewhat more formal, by a young man with a British accent and black tie, Edmund (Ian Sanphy), to Ariel (Jay Davani), but this time he’ s the one to suggest coffee. The ardor is soon echoed by Nikos when he approaches a blonde, Susan (Meg Taylor-Roth), who was drawing in a sketchbook, saying that he wants her to love him as intensely as he does her. We learn that they live together.

All right, we get it. Passion can be compulsive.

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