REVIEW: The Censor (Ebb and Flow Theatre)

 

The sex whisperer

Censor 1

   
Ebb and Flow Theatre presents
 
The Censor
   
Written by Anthony Neilson
Directed by
Mike Rice
at
The Basement, 1142 W. Lawrence (map)
through November 20  |  tickets: $10  |  more info

I’ve been to theater in basements before—nice, clean church basements, whose price is right for the cash-strapped theater company. But the setting for Ebb and Flow Theatre’s current production, The Censor, is a basement of an altogether different order—dank, musty, dirty, with an air of eerie abandonment. It’s a basement where you wonder where the bodies are buried. If you are tall, watch your head. Pipes jutting from the fairly low ceiling only contribute to the show’s claustrophobic atmosphere. Ebb and Flow want to give Scottish playwright Anthony Neilson’s play all the subterranean impact they can, given that the play is about our tendency to relegate explicit sex, and all attempts to depict it, to a foul and shame-filled underworld.

Censor 6 Under the direction of Mike Rice, this basement is the office of The Censor (John Gray). He works in the pornography department to which the Board of Classification has consigned him and it serves as a purgatory to which he’s resigned himself. “Do you know what we call this place?” he asks Ms. Fontaine (Geraldine Dulex), creator of the sexually explicit film he is in the process of rating. “It’s called ‘The Shithole’.” At another juncture he confesses, “We’re virtually lepers down here.” It’s his duty to act as society’s guardian, rating the pornography that comes across his desk, protecting the rest of us from its illicit images. Yet simply coming into contact with such material has rendered him a pariah in his co-workers’ eyes.

Ms. Fontaine tries to make The Censor “see” her film as she intended, the story of a love affair depicted in images, not words, using only “the international language of sex.” At first one suspects she’s pulling the tired, old “porn as art” ruse in order to win a less restrictive rating but, first and foremost, Fontaine is a believer. Her attempts to convince The Censor clearly indicate that she is out to obtain converts. As though she were a prophet, seer, or mystic, she then reads The Censor sexually and emotionally, proving her currency with the “language of sex” by accurately guessing his childhood and current marital state without anything divulged from him. Ms. Fontaine becomes the Sex Whisperer to all The Censor’s secret sexual privations, insecurities, and humiliations. Their relationship takes on a therapeutic, as well as pornographic, aspect as he opens up about the true nature of his sexually desiccated day-to-day existence.

Much about Ebb and Flow’s production is enjoyable. Neilson’s dialogue is tight, riveting and often poetic. Rice’s direction moves the action along convincingly and realistically—no small feat for a play that mimics porn scenarios. John Gray’s performance alone is worth the price of admission. He lends meaty depth, humor and humanism to his character’s loneliness, isolation and constant, neurotic desperation to do things correctly. Dulex may have a greater challenge depicting Fontaine, who often comes across as the all-knowing voice of sex and hardly seems human at all. Dulex definitely captures Fontaine’s oddly enigmatic, distanced perspective. For all

the daring with which this messiah engages in sex, the emotional connections are just not there.

 

Censor 2 Censor 4

As for me, I came away from The Censor unconvinced as to its “in-yer-face” daring or authenticity. An award-winning play, The Censor depends just a little too heavily on basing Fontaine’s legitimacy upon her quasi-mystical sexual therapy. The scenario of the wiser, more experienced sexual partner claiming greater knowledge than the inexperienced or repressed initiate—knowing him better than he knows himself—is as old as porn itself. It certainly receives no refreshing or insightful treatment here. Furthermore, the play is hampered by the scattered introduction of The Censor’s wife (Amy Johnson) between the scenes in which Fontaine makes her case about the film. It was almost a relief to see Johnson sit down in an actual scene with Gray. Finally their marital malaise was palpable and thoroughly cemented his ostracization to the porn purgatory he has, essentially, chosen.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
   
   

Censor 3

Review: Apocalypso (Point of Contention Theatre)

Fractured tales of Armageddon

 

Apocalypso - Point of Contention Theatre

   
Point of Contention Theatre presents
   
Apocalyso
   
Written by William Donnelly
Directed by
Timothy Bambara
at Heartland Studio, 7016 N. Glenwood (map)
through October 2nd   |  tickets: $10-$15   |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

It must be getting close to another pivotal prediction time in the history of humankind. Apocalypso is rife with hints of New Age philosophy, 20-something aimlessness, and Generation X hitting the wall. Yes, 2012 looms and there is hair in the Cocoa Puffs. I would not quite call this play by William Donnelly a comedy as it is billed. There are some funny lines but this is more of a post-millennial musing of the Absurd.

The Point of Contention Theatre Company is known for breakneck dialogue, seamless direction, and quirky expressionistic takes on reality. I have to say that Apocalypso doesn’t quite nail the mark as well as past works like The Wonder (our review ★★★½) or Vanishing Points. (our review ★★★)

To be clear, there are some fine performances in this play, but the action and the narrative don’t flow that well. Apocalypso is set during the holiday season between Christmas and New Years’ Eve in small town America. We are introduced to a washed up school janitor named Gus, getting hammered with a newly divorced Boone. Mike Rice and Zach Livingston play the roles respectively. They make fine work of portraying guys on a cheap beer bender in the Upper Peninsula. Gus stokes his drinking buddy with misogynistic remarks and manly feats of dog care while stealing none too bright Boone’s wallet. Catherina Kusch as Sherry the bartender is a standout. Kusch plays the part of a woman who accepts anything rather than being alone with a weary dignity and touch of fierceness. In the midst of the holiday binge, a derelict-looking woman appears, speaks of a message, then disappears.

Boone (Livingston) wakes up in the apartment of his friend Walt, played by Jared Nell. Mr. Livingston has a fine grasp of the broad comedy strokes of the sofa-surfing Boone who – wearing only boots, underwear and a torn bathrobe – is a site. Calling Oscar Madison!  Mr. Nell’s Walt is the unfortunate consumer of the hirsute breakfast cereal. Walt appears to be a pushover and if it quacks like a duck….you know the rest.

Into this fracas is thrown the characters of Boone’s manipulative ex-wife Gin (Heather Brodie), her ever accommodating sister Cal (Megan E. Brown), and her secretive husband Dwight, played by Tony Kaehny. I was left wondering how this could be called a comedy at all after watching the painful scene between the sisters Gin and Cal.

Gin cannot let go of Boone and calls him at ridiculous hours to request random objects like CD’s or small appliances. The sight of Walt sitting in a car holding a circa-70’s blender should have elicited a bigger laugh in my opinion. The humor was tempered by the looming angst that hangs in every scene of Apocalypso.  I should want to care about these characters but I cannot. They are so self-involved and oblivious to the meaning behind all of their existential spouting that I was hoping for an Armageddon full of endless Calypso dancing. In fact, the only character that brought levity and honesty to the play was Dora, played by Jennifer Betancourt. She appears like a vision to each character, speaking her message with evangelical zeal. Betancourt is wonderful as the possibly delusional Dora. She claims to be from the Council of Fate and Determination, sent to tell the world of the end times. Dora is darkly funny, as we all have seen someone like her on the train or a downtown street corner preaching in a filthy parka. The humor is this: perhaps they are right. They grasp onto just enough kernels of truth to make one wonder ‘what if?’ and then shake it off, inferring insanity on the messenger.

We discover that Dora is the sister of Walt and she warns him about the end of the world and the Cocoa Puffs. Walt explains that Dora is off of her meds and thought that she was indeed the Lamb of God as a child. Dora manages to inject honesty into these character’s lives by calling things as they are in the midst of listening to their mewling half steps toward honesty.

These people do not treat each other well, and normally that works as a dramatic device to push the action forward. In Apocalypso, the human cruelty just stalls the flow of the play. The marriage of Cal and Dwight is played like a soap opera with a plot of philandering and regret. By the time Cal is awakened by Dora and calls Dwight on his BS the only humor is found in an expletive and a demand for tea.

I have to say that I found Donnelly’s dialogue and theme oddly reminiscent of the novel “Nine Kinds of Naked” by Tony Vigorito. There is talk of tornadoes, allusions to synchronicity, and being reborn naked after the Rapture. Perhaps it is homage; perhaps it is a coincidence that I will allow as synchronicity.

The production’s performances are quite good. It is a disappointment, then, that the direction seems to pace the scenes in a fractured manner. Sometimes comedy is serious and sometimes it calls for broad strokes to elicit a knowing chuckle. This is a bit too serious where the material could be mined for more self-recognition. There should be at least a conga line.

   
  
Rating: ★★½
  
    

 Apocalypso runs through October 2nd at the Boho Theatre @ Heartland Studio. Times are Thursday through Saturday at 8:00pm and Sundays at 2:00pm. Contact www.pointofcontention.org for more information and tickets.

     
     

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