Due to Events: Existential Squirreliness

Photo by Jody Christopherson

Photo by Jody Christopherson

Human Head Performance Group’s Due to Events, a curious collection of play pieces that have been constructed by Jean Ann Douglass and Eric John Meyer into a performance that runs through February 27th at The Brick, embraces a squirrely sense of logic that creates an atmosphere in which almost anything can happen, and yet almost nothing does.  

This sense of ‘nothing-happening-ness,’ seems intentional.  The play uses two modes of operation to inch its way forward; there is a woman named Hero (played with gusto and precision by Anne Gridley) who has been placed under house arrest by the government and, over the course of the play’s action, goes mildly insane.  The room within which she is arrested also contains a cat (embodied and given voice by Laura Campbell) who becomes Hero’s main buddy throughout the play, and a stuffed squirrel that is also apparently a telephone.  The government advises that you speak into the head side and not the butt side, because if you do the butt side it comes out all muffled on the other end.

The second mode of operation is the world-traveling-adventures of Hero’s lawyer (Ben Beckley), who has been sent on a quest to find some piece of essential information from a hard-to-find fellow named Dan that will help win Hero’s case.  The intelligent scenic design (by Sara C. Walsh) features a fake brick wall in the upstage area, with curtains that are intermittently pulled back to reveal the lawyer in one of many new & exotic locales, indicated by a photo-printed canvas flat behind him (reminiscent of the generic prints you can buy at IKEA).  

Sorta/kinda bridging the two worlds is a character named Voiceover (David Skeist, murmuring into a blue-LED-lit microphone with dulcet tone), who occasionally interrupts the action to take us through a semi-meditation on various philosophical musings, or just to tell us something that might be happening below the surface of what we’re watching.  Skeist also plays ‘The Government,’ who intrude a few times into Hero’s world, and various hotel clerks that the lawyer runs into during his adventures.  

Oh, and regarding the talking cat – this, I think, will be the first time I go publically on record in saying that I personally experience a strong aversion to humans playing animals in the anthropomorphic sense.  (For example, A.R. Gurney’s Sylvia, in which the majority of the ‘humor’ – so called – is derived from the vocalization of the writer-generated thoughts of a lady dog… ugh.)  So, there is a certain reliance in Due to Events on the relationship between Hero and her cat (heard by us in words but – maybe? – heard by Hero as ‘meows,’ although the play seems to try to have it both ways at times) that presented me with the challenge of trying to overcome my prejudice against the device – a battle that I was not always able to win.

No matter one’s preferences, there’s certainly a committed sense of whimsy and an occasional rush of strangeness to be found here (a scene wherein all the art is stolen from Hero’s apartment stands out), but also a risky reliance on our ability to engage fully in either mode of narrative operation.  I found myself more interested in the lawyer’s far-flung adventures, although it’s never made clear what exactly he is looking for, how it will relate to the Hero’s case, or even what she’s been charged with.  Given that these details and various others have been withheld (one presumes) on purpose, we’re left to a sort of existential and ambiguous drift throughout.  Like a Beckett or Sartre play, Due to Events slows us down and dangles us over the vast ‘in-between’ in which nothing is known and there might be a (symbolic) garden visible depending on where you’re sitting, or maybe not.  Maybe you missed it.  And that’s okay.

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