Talking Movies

October 11, 2013

Neutral Hero

neutral-hero-5

The New York City Players present Richard Maxwell’s lauded meditation on the mundane as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival.

That sentence is perfectly neutral. I’ve given you the facts and nothing more. Why? Did you want more? A joke, some sort of a pithy judgement? Neutral Hero is not the kind of play that lends itself to reviewing in that style. So here are some more facts. Twelve empty chairs line the back of the stage, and are gradually occupied by the actors, who emerge first singly, then in pairs, then severally. The first five actors to appear each deliver a monologue. They describe in fastidious detail a small Mid-Western town. But don’t think because of that you can expect Our Town for the 2010s to begin with the first scene. The first scene isn’t a scene in any naturalistic sense, and the actors don’t play it with any emotion in their delivery, or their expressions. Just strictly neutral.

There are twelve actors. These are their names. Janet Coleman, Keith Connolly, Alex Delinois, Bob Feldman, Jean Ann Garish, Rosie Goldensohn, Paige Martin, James Moore, Philip Moore, Andie Springer, Andres Weisell. Listing them alphabetically avoids creating artificial ranks of distinction within the troupe. They perform the piece. Oddly I found myself thinking only of Bret Easton Ellis’ affectless prose with endless sentences describing in detail physical objects and leaving emotions beyond its ken. Is this Brechtian? Yes, but what’s the point? This is a play with much music. The effect of the vocal interpretation of neutrality is to replicate Nico’s stilted singing with the Velvet Underground, but with more Americana instrumentation; being banjos and mandolin beside piano and drums. If Bret Easton Ellis and Arcade Fire collaborated would they produce Neutral Hero? No. Because they’d do something; shocking or anthemic.

It’s interesting to see what experimental theatre groups are doing in New York City. But neutrality onstage can only go so far, at some point it runs into the audience, who have react to it. Otherwise it’s not theatre. And I was bemused. The New York Times said that Maxwell “makes the soaringly heroic feel like the natural and inevitable subtext of the numbingly quotidian”. Now if the New York Times told me to go jump off a cliff I wouldn’t do it, not least because I’d probably fall asleep while Thomas Friedman got sidetracked with an anecdote about a man called Hector, who lives in Winesburg, Ohio, who he once told to jump off a cliff. Actors walking from one side of the stage to the other, and then back, isn’t really choreography. And this isn’t really “a story of epic ordinariness concerning a young man searching for his father in the wide open landscape of the American Midwest”. Telling, isn’t it, that a story was promised in publicity?

Neutral Hero sticks to its principled guns, even to the point of refusing to take a bow at the show’s end, but this theatrical Van Burenism ultimately becomes self-defeating.

2/5

Neutral Hero continues its run at the Project Arts Centre until October 12th.

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