Regional Reviews: New Jersey
tempOdyssey Throws NJ Rep tempOfftrack
Also see Bob's review of Quartermaine's Terms
tempOdyssey, the new dark, absurdist comedy, is difficult to follow, and (happily) rapidly flees the mind. However, in the scene opening the second act and the play's final scene at its end, author Dan Dietz carefully and mundanely spells out just what his play is all about. It seems that Dietz has written these scenes because of an awareness that his series of sketch-like, arbitrarily constructed scenes have otherwise proven a muddle to viewers.
A young woman named Genny finds herself in a tall office building in Seattle. She tells us, "Blame it on the black hole." It seems that a lab in Atlanta "baked up" a black hole, and that it "launched" her from Atlanta toward "the other edge of the world, Seattle, the anti-Atlanta." Genny is hired as an office temp.
To cut to the chase, Genny dreams (the whole shebang may be a dream) that she is back home with her daddy, a poultry farmer. At the age of eight, Genny discovered that she had the ability to instantly kill chickens by firmly grabbing them by the neck and swinging them around and cracking their necks. The family went from dirt poor to prosperous as "our little chicken farm was flooded over with orders for birds. Folks insisted that the birds killed by my hand tasted better because their deaths were 100% pain-free .... Little Gennies, as the chicks were soon called, were "sweeter than a rose finger sunrise." Genny did come to "see" in the chickens' eyes that they were aware that when she was about to kill them.
So, now we know that Genny is running away from a her childhood, her image, her family and her hometown. However, there remains more to interpret. Jim, the friendly young office assistant who befriends Genny throughout, is apparently dead. He is identified in the program as Dead Body Boy. If he is not dead from the beginning, he is certainly dead after Genny, who seems to have telekinetic neck breaking power, accidentally breaks his in a moment of panic.
Stephanie Thompson nicely plays the troubled Genny as a lost innocent caught up in events over which she has no control. Michael Nathanson as Jim (or Dead Body Boy, if author Dietz insists) is especially excellent clomping around in the manner of a physically unbalanced, teetering comic Frankenstein's monster. It is a terrifically funny performance, vitiated by the dismal failure of Dietz's intended comic context. David Sitler gives an essentially straightforward performance as Ginny's Daddy. In multiple roles, both Andrea Gallo as Ginny's Mama and two female clericals, and Ian August as the bossy Nepotism Guy, a Scientist who lectures in a humorous but erudite manner on black holes, and the unseen Security Guy (it seems that Genny and Jim have a bomb) perform amusingly and with gusto, clearly creating distinct personalities for each of their roles.
At the end, it is not clear what has resulted, even though Geny has punched in the numbers to set off the bomb. Whatever has happened, she must go forth and shoulder on. Or something like that.
Director Sturgis Warner directs with a comic energy and a line by line clarity and directness, but good direction cannot fill the void caused by the vacuity of the script. The wood paneled, file cabinet filled reception room has an elevator at the rear. The elevator opening becomes a balcony backed by a skyline when it becomes another room, and the yard of Ginny's Atlanta home when the play shifts to there. It is well designed by Jo Winiarski.
The title, tempOdyssey raises expectation that there will be significant parallels to Homer. They fail to materialize despite a one line reference to Scylla and Charybdis.
Overall, the level of the productions of the New Jersey Repertory Theatre is admirably high. It is extraordinarily so, given the fact that this season over a period of ten months, it is producing seven new plays and musicals, including five world premieres. In addition, it has presented this season a festival of three programs of short plays, and will have completed "script-in-hand" staged readings of more than 20 new plays by the season's end. However, for the second time in the last eighteen months, seemingly attracted by an often demonstrated, admirable enthusiasm for challenging, absurdist plays, NJ Rep has been led down the garden path by playwright Dan Dietz. Despite having received well performed and directed productions here, his Tilt Angel and the current tempOdyssey reveal a playwright whose imaginary flights bring neither insight, freshness nor pleasure to his reiteration of old themes which have often been far better illuminated by (and I do not use the word pejoratively) traditional playwrights. Historically, the great absurdist plays have a scope and clarity which is never hinted at in this play
Blame it on the black hole.
tempOdyssey continues performances (Thurs., Fri. & Sat. 8 p.m./ Sun. 2 p.m.) through March 18, 2007 at the New Jersey Repertory Company (Lumia Theatre), 179 Broadway, Long Branch, NJ 07740; online www.njrep.org.
tempOdyssey by Dan Dietz; directed by Sturgis Warner