SIGNAL TO NOISE, Now Theatre, at Victory Gardens Theater. A dying artist, unable to complete his final work, creates it in his head. It's an oft-told tale, treated effectively in the film Providence and Borges's story "The Secret Miracle," that fails to compel in Marc Rosenbush and Robert Toombs's slick adaptation of Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean's graphic novel: neither the artist nor his "film" carry sufficient dramatic interest. The unnamed director is your standard obsessive, egomaniacal cineast whose supposed intellect flattens everyone in its path ("Film is an obsession: when you do it, there's no choice involved"). Even the excellent William J. Norris--who's effective in a near-death scene--doesn't make the self-absorbed auteur much more than a series of familiar characteristics.
Worse, though, is the film--brooding, ponderous twaddle about a pack of religious fanatics and social outcasts ascending a mountain in the year 999 to await the apocalypse. There's occasional wit and wisdom here, particularly in a discussion of the self-aggrandizement of apocalyptic beliefs. But save for some amusing asides and Cynthia Von Orthal's wonderful Four Horsemen puppets, the predictable material is handled with so little irony that it becomes satire: imagine a portentous Bergman film coupled with pseudoprofound Rush lyrics. Every stock character--the wise fool, the duplicitous priest--and every hackneyed line is offered as if it were genius instead of one last dying gasp of folly. --Adam Langer