Friday, October 26, 2012

Sci-Fi Theater: Heresy

Nearly alone in this show,
Reg Cathay doesn't phone his performance in
The Flea Theater
written by A.R. Gurney
directed by Jim Simpson

It's a measure of sci-fi's ubiquity in American theater that even A.R. Gurney, an 82-year-old WASP, sets his latest drama in a dystopia. It's “New America in the not-too-distant future, just long enough for five nation-wide “crackdowns” on un-American activity. The image that conjures—of NYPD bashing Occupy—is the only contemporary aspect of Gurney's setting. His targets are Bush-era: waterboarding, wiretaps, and massive databases on American citizenry get cited but not, say, drone assassination. Not a word about the Great Recession but plenty about a newfound unity of church and state. The near-absence of post-'08 malfeasance makes the play seem behind the times, already dated. The near-future resembles the near-past, but with a paranoid streak stemming from constant police surveillance. The lone bit of future-tech is a whooshing door out of BBC's MI-5.

If Heresy were stronger elsewhere, in script or show, Gurney's failure of imagination wouldn't matter so much. But the play is clumsy, its staging uninspired. Its basic conceit is awful: Mary (Annette O'Toole, wooden) visits DC to speak with Pilate about the arrest of her son, Chris. In case his audience misses his point, Gurney hamhandedly emphasizes the parallel: young officer Mark, transcribing the meeting, likes to re-translate prosaic dialogue back into its biblical phraseology. Jim Simpson ignores the script's blunt-edged satire, instead staging the play with a breezy tone. The flickers of enjoyment come from the always-awesome Reg E. Cathay, a Pilate whose bass voice belies a shallow desire for respect, and by Kathy Najimy as his tipsy wife, a society matron who says the dopiest things. The duo's rapport gives this doddering one-act its only moments of vitality.


Heresy plays at the Flea Theater, closing on November 4. Tickets?


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