Disappearance performance disappoints


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?


  1. 1. It is not my practice to respond to reviews but I am doing so here because of my responsibilities as a Professor at the College of WIlliam and Mary, where it is my duty to teach all students, whether they are enrolled in my class or not.  In this case, Mr. Ian Goodrum, a student at the College has written about my work, so it is incumbent upon me to educate in return. Further, I am extremely concerned as to the impact of Mr. Goodrum’s writing in my capacity to fulfill my responsibilities as an officer of instruction in the College of William and Mary.

    2. Freedom of speech comes with responsibility and on a good day, maybe an ounce of civility especially on a campus that prides itself as ONE TRIBE, MANY VOICES.  Further, freedom exercised gratuitously sometimes becomes oppression itself.  I wish to make it known that Mr. Goodrum’s article has caused much pain not only on myself, my students, but also on my family–my wife, my children, and my mother who bear the sacrifice of my being an absent husband, father, and son during the extensive rehearsal process.  I would have gladly accepted Mr. Goodrum’s disappointment in Disappearance had he written with an ounce of respect, and left me and my student collaborators a dust of dignity.  Everyone has a mother, even Professors.  In my case, my mother called me to ask why a student was writing with so much HATE in response to my work with my students.  I am afraid only Mr. Goodrum can answer that question. 

    3.  To be clear, Mr. Goodrum wrote a response to the play DISAPPEARANCE but not a review.  

    4. Flat Hat Editors have a responsibility to make very sure that writers are educated in the genre where they write, because in the end the lack of training and education does not only cast aspersion on the writer or even the Flat Hat, but the entire College.

    5.  Flat Hat Editors must also do all they can to take care of their writers so that they are healthy and in good disposition to exercise their responsibilities.  In this case, Mr. Goodrum was asleep for much of the show.  Had he written that he fell asleep because of the experience I provided through the show, that would have been fair to write.  I was right behind him during the show while he slept for a good period of the evening.  I debated internally whether I should awake him. Alas, my choice to leave him in slumber was not the best choice to be made.

    6. With the right to freedom of expression comes a responsibility to be educated about what one writes about.  For instance in the program, I state very clearly that it was only in 2009 that I have explored full time the various genres of Japanese Theatre.  Mr. Goodrum should have acknowledged his own scope of knowledge or lack thereof which might have impacted his experience of the performance. I have already apologized for all my failures in the show in the same program, so I hope Mr. Goodrum will take the time for himself to re-read the apology for the suffering he incurred in the 150 minutes of DISAPPEARANCE.

    7. We are in academic theatre. Our primary responsibility is to educate, including the audience. I take responsibility for not having been able to educate Mr. Goodrum appropriately but such is the case in our College.  As Professor of World and Multicultural Theatre, I only began my job in 2005 in a College that has been producing plays since the 17th century.  Thus I have a long way to go in educating our community in world and multicultural theatre.  But the job and responsibility can not be mine alone.

    8.  Diversity is not only about numbers but about getting to know the people who are here. If nobody spends time getting to know one another, diversity is useless. Numbers mean nothing. All my theatre productions are made with this in mind.  They are meant to stir up conversations not controversy, courage not fear, friendships not enemies.  As I mentioned, I can not live up to my responsibilities as a Professor of World and Multicultural Theatre on my own because what has been happening here at William and Mary has been happening since 1693.  I need help from the Tribe.Tanglao-AguasAssociate Professor
    Department of Theatre, Speech, and Dance

    Founding Artistic Director
    iPAX, International Performance Arts eXchangeThe College of William and Mary in Virginia

    • Have you considered that maybe — just perhaps — the play that you put on was nowhere as good as you are convinced it was? Failure is okay, as long as you grow and learn from it rather than act like a petulant child. 

      Maybe you should have used this review as a teachable moment rather than, you know, coming off as someone whose jimmies were rustled and decided to respond to it poorly. 

      If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen. You work in a field where your work is publicly critiqued. I thought this review was a very fair and accurate review of the production you put on. If you can’t accept a negative review of your work with grace, then perhaps theater is the wrong profession for you. 

      • Wally,


        Are you a student? Did you actually just insult a professor
        by calling him a “petulant child?” That says more about your character than I
        ever care to know…


        Journalism is a profession where negative reviews can still
        be written with grace and respect. 
        Gracefully written criticism, will be taken gracefully. If they are
        written with hate and disrespect, that is how they will be taken.  Disrespect is not an injustice that anyone should readily accept just because it is readily given.  


        If Ian is your friend I suggest you give him, and take for
        yourself, the advice rudely misdirected at Professor Tanglao-Aguas: to take the play as an educational moment
        rather than, you know, coming off as someone whose jimmies were rustled and
        decided to respond to it poorly.


        • I didn’t call him a petulant child, I just said he was responding to critique like one. I fail to see how this review is hateful. I think he justifies his points accurately, identifies a few positive qualities, and engages the production critically in a fair manner. 

          Identifying failure is not rude. But responding to a critique with a lack of professionalism is just embarrassing. Professor Tangelo-Aguas should have recognized his comment as beneath someone of his position, but failed in that too. I have more significant qualms about that response than Mr. Goodrum likely had with the work. 




      I am actually very curious as to why you write theatre
      reviews? And if you ever take the time to research the theatrical genres you
      write about? Did you look up what Noh theatre was about before you wrote your
      review? Before seeing the play?  All of
      the parts of the play that you criticized are WHAT MAKE NOH PLAYS NOH


      I read your unfair
      and completely inaccurate review after watching the play, and I took personal
      offense to your hurtful review. Why? Because this is NOT AT ALL how my friends
      and I experienced this play. Yes we were confused, but were not so quick to
      dismiss our confusion as “dramaturgical torment.” We understood that this play
      was in a theatrical style outside of our western culture.  And we accepted that. We understood that the
      characters lacked “emotional resonance” because Noh theatre calls for it, and
      we accepted that. We were not disappointed that the chorus “rarely acted as a
      true chorus” because we knew that our understanding of theatre cannot be
      applied to understanding a Japanese play. 


        I am
        also hurt because your unfair, unprofessional, and close-minded review did our
        student body a great injustice.  You
        wrote a review about a JAPANESE play without putting your American/Western
        expectations of theatre into perspective. 
        There was nothing wrong with the play. You did not criticize the play.
        You criticized something that you were unfamiliar with.  So the injustice you did for our campus
        community:  deterring students and faculty
        that might have otherwise enjoyed/appreciated/learned from the different
        cultural experience. 


        are entitled to your speech, but you are not entitled to disrespect.  You could have expressed your dissatisfaction
        with the play in so many different ways, but you chose the most unprofessional
        and hurtful way to do so.  You do not
        have a right to deter students and faculty from a cultural experience that they
        might have enjoyed simply because you were unwilling to accept it. You do not
        have a right to dismiss cultural differences as incompetence. 

        • I’m not entirely sure you’re reading the relevant section of my review correctly. Putting aside your questioning of my qualifications (I’ve only been doing this for years), you seem to think that “Disappearance” is pure Noh drama, when all the literature about the play indicates that the production is an attempt at mixing elements of Noh with high modernism. My critique has to do with what I see as an ineffective and inconsistent blending of the genres, a point which was hardly presented opaquely. 

          To be clear, though, this boils down to something more simple: You did not like what I had to say. That’s fine. It’s unnecessary, however, to clothe this disagreement in the rhetoric of the oppressed, as if 700 words in a student newspaper did anything to stamp the progress of multicultural artistic experience, something I fully support. What I don’t support is propping up weak examples of such art simply because I like the sentiment behind it. Your comments, and the rather lengthy comment below this one, suggest that because the campus sloganeering has branded us a Tribe, each member must unequivocally support the efforts of another. I don’t buy that. The Tribe is stronger if we point out faults or weaknesses, and in the interests of writing something that people want to read, I did so with what I will admit is a provocative voice. But I will not apologize for my tone, and I will not accede to this nonsense about “disrespect.” I do not engage in personal attacks; you’ll notice that I saved the most reproachful language for the production in the abstract, as I have always done, partly because of my distaste for granting sole authority over any artistic endeavor to a director/auteur, partly because placing blame on individuals is tantamount to the “disrespect” you claim. It would seem those objecting to my writing do not abide by similar rules.

          PS. In the interest of full disclosure, I did fall asleep for roughly five minutes of “Disappearance,” a nearly three-hour show. For this I do apologize, as it is part of my responsibility to be awake and alert during the full running time of a production I review.

          • Ian, 

            First,  I do not resort to a rhetoric of the oppressed in concealment of our “disagreement,” I do so in full disclosure. My problem is not with what you had to say, it’s how you said it. I wonder if the “roughly” five minutes you spent sleeping during the play was half as long as the time you spent on the Noh Theatre wiki page? That’s the extent of your qualifications in question. That is all that is needed here. Because the only context you gave about this “blending of the genres” was calling the production a “bastard child of Japanese Noh drama and the high modernism of Samuel Beckett.” But then, you contradicted yourself by saying the play had insufficient Noh qualities. Is this the relevant section of your review?? As far as the nonesnse about disrespect goes, this is how you chose to present yourself. There is nothing respectable about your “provocative” tone. You seem to know your way around a keyboard pretty well, so why do you chose to write something that will make you look so bad? You are right, you should not be expected to support something you do not wish to just because we’re all part of the Tribe. But because we are branded as a Tribe, you should not undermine others with so much ignorance, and dare I say it? Hate. And because the Tribe is in fact stronger when we point out our flaws and weaknesses, I have taken the time to write out these “lengthy” replies to point out yours. By no means for your sake, but for anyone who had the misfortune of crossing paths with your review. It’s sad that a Flat Hat journalist (with several years of experience) does not see how even  “700 words in a student newspaper” can be harmful. Many students read the Flat Hat on a regular basis. Seven hundred words in a student news paper is a lot of space. And because this is student paper, I don’t think it’s acceptable to perpetuate hate in the “interests of writing something that people will want to read.”  You review was unjust. The Flat Hat ran that injustice. Define oppression however you’d like, Webster’s first definition is: an unjust or cruel exercise of power or authority.  Best, 


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