As this, the final year of my college career and my tenure as theater critic for The Flat Hat, winds to a close, I have been able to look back and question what I’ve written: “Was I too harsh?” “Did I give shows a pass?” And “Why did I review modern dance?” While hindsight rears its ugly head, there is a certain retrospective clarity when it comes to performances that truly stood out these past four years. The triumphs — “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,” “Bones,” “The Shape of Things” — seem more auspicious, their success bolstered in comparison to their weaker counterparts. Although there have been some pieces with more misses than hits over the years — “Rhinoceros,” “Table Manners,” “Thoroughly Modern Millie” — it’s been a rare occasion when there wasn’t something to like about what’s been put on stage.
Leave it to the cruelties of fate, then, to saddle me with one hell of a farewell gift.
Francis Tanglao-Aguas’s adaptation of Keralino Sandorovich’s “Disappearance,” being performed this week in Phi Beta Kappa Hall’s Studio Theatre, has outdone all opposition. Unless “Ruined” is an unmitigated disaster — which seems highly unlikely — I can say without reservation that “Disappearance” is the worst theatrical production I have ever seen on this campus.
Why the bluntness? Well, after upwards of 150 minutes spent watching an incoherent, inconsistent parade of poor characterization and even poorer execution, I have little patience left. Taken on its own, “Disappearance” is an occasionally insightful synthesis of a panicked post-war malaise and its resultant psychotic attachments; but in this production, the bastard child of Japanese Noh drama and the high modernism of Samuel Beckett, the decent becomes the defective and the good, grotesque. Noh plays traditionally use movement and dance to display states of high emotion, but “Disappearance” has plenty of words, despite its pretensions to the contrary. The dialogue not only lacks emotional resonance, but it also presents a bizarre rendering of simple phraseology, creating glaringly inept readings of lines that would get a symphony of groans in impolite company. I would love nothing more than to write these off as moments of theatrical experimentation, but when most other dialogue is spoken in a naturalistic manner, incompetence is the only diagnosis.
Some in the cast are truly dedicated to their performances, despite quite obviously struggling under the ponderousness of the whole affair: Shaan Sharma ’15 acquits himself well enough as the simpleton living under the benevolent dictatorship of his brother Chaz, played by Abhay Ahluwalia ’12, and Grace Mendenhall ’13 does much with her brief periods of focus as the renter in this house of horrors. Mendenhall has come a long way since her performance in Shakespeare in the Dark’s “The Tempest,” and perhaps someday she’ll be in a production worth her development. She and Rebecca Turner ’14 are one of two pairs of actors playing their roles on alternating nights; needless to say, I won’t be checking in again to see how the others fare. I wish them the best of luck.
What else is there to be said about this unfortunate exercise? The ensemble? Effective enough, although they rarely act as a true chorus. The lights? Well, just how important is lighting when your head is in your hands? The music? Fine, when it happens. That just about covers it. If anyone wants to know more about the specifics of the play, I’ll be drinking somewhere.
If “Disappearance” succeeds in one thing, it is in helping the audience to understand Chaz’s motivations for selectively deleting his brother’s memory. Never have I wished more that such a device existed than after being subjected to this dramaturgical torment. Where’s Lacuna, Inc. when you need it?