MARTIN AND JOHN, Stratford-on-Guy Productions, at Live Bait Theater. Like just about every other freelance theater artist in town, Sean O'Neil is busy raising money to get to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe next month. As reported in Culture Club two weeks ago, he needs $24,000 to mount his one-man, no-prop, no-tech adaptation of Dale Peck's novel Martin and John. Perhaps he's traveling on the Q.E. 2.
Essentially unchanged from its original incarnation at Cafe Voltaire in October 1994, O'Neil's adaptation hyperliteralizes Peck's oblique and contrived novel. "Author" John, attempting to escape the emotional devastation caused by his lover Martin's death, rewrites his life story over and over. But while John self-consciously creates these healing fictions, O'Neil reenacts his stories as if they were all true and traumatic, squeezing out every ounce of pain and pity, overarticulating every other gesture. He even feels compelled to strip, lie spread-eagle on a bed, and squirm with his ass in the air to help us visualize a man being fucked (then again, who can fault a fund-raiser for knowing what sells?). Peck's stories have poignancy because John can achieve a critical, ironic distance. Without that, there's no controlling intelligence, and O'Neil simply meanders from one tortured anecdote to the next.