by Michael Meigs
Face it: there's no use getting annoyed with the theatre of the absurd, no matter how confusing it may seen. Or even with the neo-theatre of the absurd such as this piece by Jared J. Stein, produced a good 50 years after the audacious thumbing-its-nose-at-the-bourgeois art style hit the European stages.
In Somewhere in Utopia Stein portrays a dystopia: two principal characters are fixed unthinkingly before a television screen as the audience files into the black box of the Salvage Vanguard Theatre. One slim, nervous androgynous white-skinned creature is wearing a black Harlequin-style mask; the other, a stolid, angry African-American glaring at the television, is wearing a white mask. There's a lengthy, subtle silent play between them as we wait for the action to begin. With almost no movement other than Bobby's apprehensive trembling and occasional changing of the channel and the sustained glare of Marcus, they are establishing a full story even before the house lights go down. I was fixed in my seat by the vibrating tension between them, made even more painful by the callow undergraduate talk in the seats behind me, a couple of rambling conversations about weekend activity and plans to study abroad. Couldn't those spectators see that there was a full-blown silent catastrophe occurring right in front of us?
Director Becca Plunkett leaves no character unturned. There are four in the piece and actors' sexes are transformed. Bobby and Marcus are certainly women but seem to be representing men locked in some sort of mutually destructive relationship; the narrator when s/he appears is a self-confident prancing and sneering actress carefully painted to have five o'clock shadow. The fourth, emerging from a heavy, mattress-sized vinyl bodybag, is Cassady, a fast-talking pseudo-American-Indian girl portrayed by a man with the lean figure of a runner,wearing a skirt and an impossible headdress.