New York International Fringe Festival - FringeNYC
On Insomnia and Midnight
When news, coincidence, and fantasy collide, they usually do so on the front pages sensationalistic tabloids. But such unions of fiction and reality can have darker consequences, and it's these that Edgar Chías sets out to explore in his restless play On Insomnia and Midnight.
On a series of evenings, an older man (Pietro González) and a much younger woman (Sonia Portugal) dressed as a maid meet to discuss and enact... Well, exactly what is an open question. Sex is a frequent topic - the man is obsessed with it, and the younger woman's own awakening was not exactly ideal. (Short version: It ended up with her being shuttled off to a convent.) Current events is another: There's a fascinating story in the newspaper about a girl whose unrequited infatuation for her teacher led her to a watery grave - the woman can barely stumble through reading the news account, and the man insists its every word is wrong.
But whenever the two are speaking, they're always talking to or about someone else, as if their own pasts have left them so unsuited for intimacy that they can't bear to acknowledge anyone in anything but the most basic of positional terms. (The man goes so far as to live in dusk-dim light - he truly can't bear to face anyone in a natural way.) Director Berioska Ipinza makes the most of Chías's cues, rendering each actor alternately as a Venus flytrap and as its fluttering prey, toying with how close they can become before disaster (or, worse, affection) strikes.
On Insomnia and Midnight, which originated in Mexico City and was performed at London's Royal Court Theater, is undeniably a mood piece, as dependent on its shadowy light plot (provided here by Lucrecia Briceño) as on anything else. But Chías turns an unnecessary amount over to mood, giving the man and woman too little to identify them as people rather than as pawns in a tedious tournament of strip chess. González presents the right basic irascibility and Portugal a competent vision of tarnished innocence, but they need to build fuller portrayals on these foundations.
As the play runs just 80 minutes, they hardly have time, especially as Chías spends so long investigating his characters' proclivities. The climax, so to speak, occurs with the two sitting on a bed discussing the artistic and erotic merits of Internet porn. The scene is probably supposed to be ironic, but it rambles rather than rattles, doing more to cure your own insomnia than explore why tortured souls like these would even bother to get out of bed.
Run Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Have you ever wondered how the most deranged and outwardly antisocial homeless people ended up as they did? Though Will Goldberg never directly addresses this issue in his airily bleak play We Three, its implied presence gives what could otherwise be a dusty domestic drama some much-needed additional punch.
Amory (Mitchell Conway), a smart, affable man in his mid 20s, has some serious afflictions his serious meds can't cure. He doesn't comprehend the need for the clothes, and frequently walks around (indoors and out) wholly or partially naked. Much of the time, Amory is barely aware of the presence of others, let alone where he's sleeping or walking. When he communicates in writing, his sentences are disconnected and incomprehensible, like Mad-Libs gone awry. The affection he shows for his college-bound brother Tommy (Ryan Emmons), his ex-girlfriend Olivia (Julie Congress), and his mother exists on purely an intellectual level.
Suffice it to say, they've all grown tired of supporting him, though they're likewise reluctant to commit him to an institution. What else is there to do? Let him waste away, of course.
Goldberg and his director, Erin Daley, present all this without criticism, instead demonstrating how simple it can be to drive someone to destruction by caring too much. Just enough plot blankets the 60-minute running time, and Amory, Tommy, and Olivia's interactions, which center on the breaking and forging of bonds of all kinds, fill all that time. (Amory's mother, basically a dreamlike figurehead and played by a far-too-young Samantha Hooper-Hammersley, commands too little authority to seem integral.)
A shattering curtain line provides a genuinely stunning setup for a second act neither you nor they will ever see, and cements this as firm-footed theatre that's not afraid to be uncompromising. The acting is rather less certain: Only Conway truly convinces, as someone who feels as betrayed by his shirt and his bedclothes as he does those around him. Emmons's self-concern is too affected, and Olivia's isn't affected enough - you never quite believe either is really willing to reject someone so close to them.
Part of Goldberg's point is that lives do sometimes disintegrate for bad or indeterminate reasons, and that the well-meaning rationality we'd like to ascribe to those caring for someone inflicted with a mental illness is not always deserved. We Three isn't quite detailed enough or richly enough acted to propose or present any real conclusions. But it's compelling enough to force you to reconsider the rules governing games of both the mind and of family and friends whose interest doesn't always extend beyond themselves.
Run Time: 1 hour 10 minutes