Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Fishtanked- 02/08

Fish Tanked
"Whatever you missed, we missed too." This repeated line poked out at my brain several times during my viewing of Fishtank at Theater de la Jeune Lune last Sunday evening. I couldn’t help but feel that I was missing something from this choreographed sit-com of nada. I was irked threefold by this potentially existential line. Could it be that they were repeating the line as a joke and in fact there was nothing to miss? Or was it that I was missing something and they were rubbing my nose in it? Or perhaps the third and most irritating option is true: maybe there was something going on, but neither the creators nor the viewers could tap into it. What if, both of us were missing an unperceivable, but potentially profound message and the message itself was making fun of us! It’s exhausting to contemplate really. All this mind-wrestling action put a new spin on the term ‘drama.’
This lack of story revolves around an unorthodox airport terminal in which three Darjeelingites whose names are interchangeable(Dominique Serrand, Nathan Keepers, and Steven Epp, also co-writers) cause mischief with a quirky, soft-spoken airport attendant named Coco (Jennifer Baldwin Peden). Their journey begins with a vending machine, makes a right at a gigantic fish tank, hangs a left at an old-school projection "interactive" TV, and loops through some mysterious tunnels with no apparent final destination or motivation. The show is complete with dancing flowers, a taste of nudity, and the characteristic "Jeune Lune" ending of an isolated dramatic musical number.
The creators utilize blocking and sound effects to construct most of the piece. The text is not intended to advance a story or develop stakes. Instead, the words are mostly instructional, intensifying or explanatory to the actions taking place. Most notably, they are void of any sort of emotion or contextual cues. The success of this tactic is difficult to determine. It reads as neutral. It just is. The creators are successful, however, at making the text almost irrelevant. At times I found myself ignoring what was being said because my brain established that the actions were most important. Was I correct? Heck, I still don’t know.
The text relies heavily on the actions taking place and repetition for its humorous context. The menacing line, "Whatever you missed, we missed too," is used at the beginning of the show when Keepers announces there will be no intermission. Keepers encourages the audience to still get up during the show to get a drink, smoke a cigarette, or go to the restroom if need be during the show. Then, he assures the audience not to worry, "whatever [we] missed, [they] missed too." Later on the line’s humor emerges when the actors repeatedly exit and enter the scene through tunnels on stage. When Keepers returns from one of the tunnels after a prolonged period of time, Baldwin Peden (Coco) assures him that it’s ok because "whatever [he] missed, [they] missed too."
During this same section of the play, the text takes some more obvious existential turns. There are several lines thrown out about being in one situation, but then "conversely" being on the other side of the same situation, for example, being on one side of the wall, but then being on the other and the difference between the two perspectives, etc. There are too many "conversely" statements to count.
This production proves that when language is vague or ambiguous, its significance is demoted to the level of mannerism. Also, engaging drama is possible through neutral dialogue; however, not without putting extreme pressure on the actors and the director to keep the show afloat. Unfortunately, under pressure of this type, there were several points in which this company did, in fact, tank.


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