at Angel Island
A FATHOMLESS TV CHRISTMAS . . . WITH REMOTE
Fathomless Performance Concepts
at Angel Island
Back in the late 60s and early 70s, the nationwide atmosphere of civil disobedience and hallucinogenic experimentation challenged the stagnant entertainment industry. Songwriters no longer had to be confined to two and a half minutes of bubble-gum glee per song, and groups like the Who, the New Colony Six, and Uriah Heep could noodle around with high-concept rock operas. Countercultural cinema was introducing people to quirky, nonlinear plot lines with trippy, psychedelic imagery.
At the same time, in seedy off-Broadway theaters, drama was undergoing transformations as well. In some of their earlier works, emerging writers Terrence McNally, David Rabe, and Israel Horovitz were mucking about with the audience's traditional concepts of the theater, churning out subversive one-acts that challenged both Broadway and the government and reflected the same sort of druggy influence that zapped the brain cells of the makers of Easy Rider, Magical Mystery Tour, and "Almost Cut My Hair."
The problem with watching the experimental drama that emerged off-Broadway 20 to 25 years ago is that much of it now seems incredibly dated. Sideburns and dashikis may be back in vogue, but it's difficult to endure an acid-flashback sequence without sniggering a bit. To alleviate this problem, Wallflower Productions and director David Gips have given Israel Horovitz's absurd 1967 antiestablishment rant, Line, what they call "a twist for the 90's," replacing outdated lines about hi-fis and eight-track tapes with references to CDs and digital audiotape. Ironically, despite a crisp, well-executed production, Gips's reworking seems even more mired in the hippy-dippy 60s than Horovitz's original.
Line, a one-act that gets revived about once a year in this town, metaphorically treats the ridiculous competition and social Darwinism engendered by the forces of capitalism. Five strangers argue, fight, and connive to get to the front of a line, although no one seems to know exactly where the line leads or what advantage they will attain once they get there. Fleming claims squatter's rights to the first position; a mope of the first order, he embodies a first-come, first-served social philosophy. Dolan, a smooth operator, relies on guile; he'll lay back and wait for the others to duke it out before he makes his move. The hapless, bullied Arnall depends on the pity and goodwill of others to get to the front, while his wife, the seductive Molly, will fuck anyone who stands in her way. Stephen, a hostile New York intellectual who feels a sense of kinship with boy genius Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, endeavors to reach the front of the line solely to show the others what fools they are. In a fit of rage toward the end of the play, Stephen gobbles down the rope they'd all been standing behind, but when absolute chaos ensues, he coughs it up, understanding the political role it plays in keeping people in order.
This is a rather facile analysis of contemporary society, but it's an easy and entertaining watch, especially in Wallflower's well-paced production. Although there are definite flaws in a couple of the performances (Chuck Kite's out-of-breath Arnall sounds as if he's just completed a triathlon), the five members of the ensemble play well off each other, and their interactions are fluid and expertly timed. But switching Stephen's infatuation with Mozart to an obsession with Jimi Hendrix is not exactly a 90s twist. A nightmarish scene featuring Hendrix's "Purple Haze," colliding bodies, and murky lighting is reminiscent of nothing more modern than the Monkees' Head. These alterations in the text accomplish little in the way of making Horovitz's play relevant to a contemporary audience.
Gips might also have tried to update the character of Molly, whose gang banging seems intended as comedy (a precursor, perhaps, of the sexual harassment charges leveled against Horovitz at his Gloucester, Massachusetts, theater this year). But in Gips's version, as in the Horovitz original, Molly remains the only character who is defined in terms of her behavior (i.e., screwing) as opposed to her personality. Like the rest of the play, Molly seems the relic of a once-revolutionary but now outmoded age.
Fathomless Performance Concepts strives for a healthy irreverence, with its collection of outlandish press releases trumpeting future productions of kibuki Gigi and Ecclesiastes: The Musical and its members' wide array of pseudonyms (E.W. Angst and E. Isla Nublar Yanamomo Smith). By offering the audience Styrofoam snowballs to hurl at the actors in A Fathomless TV Christmas . . . With Remote, the company allows one to hope that the show might attain an inspired level of lunacy. Would that Fathomless had spent as much time constructing a good show as they have concocting goofy promotional materials and purchasing projectiles.
A Fathomless TV Christmas takes us into the living room of a drunk Santa Claus and flips back and forth between the TV programs he's watching. On one channel is "Another Goddam Christmas Carol," featuring a blind ghost of Christmas present, a drooling Tiny Tim with cerebral palsy, and a clerk named Bob Crotchitch, whose kindly family turns to murder, and perhaps cannibalism, when Ebenezer Scrooge, a miser with a penchant for beating up on Streetwise vendors, arrives on their doorstep on Christmas. Another channel's "Labor in Bethlehem" lampoons the birth of Christ by introducing tap-dancing wise men, an unconvincing Jewish vaudevillian as Herod, and some Beavis and Butthead-style humor courtesy of a couple of pot-smoking shepherds. A late-night talk show features sometimes fathomless but mostly endless monologues by a disgruntled, cigar-chomping elf and a British army veteran. There's even a subsophomoric TV commercial for Christmas feminine douches in eggnog and milk-and-cookies flavor.