By Jane Recker
For those who have never experienced writer’s block, consider this narrative: In the past hour, you have consumed a full brick of cheese and are experiencing the unmitigated willingness to freely trade your left leg to be able to, ahem, defecate freely again.
It’s like that…but in the brain.
When full-on writer’s block hits, all a writer wants is the ability to put something down on the page, even if it’s absolute garbage. It’s frustrating, boring and devoid of any development. Which is why, of course, it flops as the main plot device in Curious Theatre Branch’s (Not) Another Day.
The premise of the self-described “sung non-opera” is actually quite clever. An actor on a soap opera, Bobby Jinx (played by Beau O’Reilly), refuses to leave the show after his character is killed off. As the show’s writer struggles to continue the soap’s storyline, the full cast is forced to continuously redo the last episode verbatim, becoming more desperate and unhinged with each take.
The retakes of the episode – shown on multiple television screens – are downright hilarious. Already funny in the first take, featuring over-the-top soap opera acting, the growing desperation of the actors to be done with the damn scene has the audience cackling in dark laughter.
If only the production had stopped there. Instead, what would have been a truly inventive and funny 20-minute sketch is dragged out into a 70-minute “meta-play about process.”
The writer, played by Vicki Walden, spends the entirety of the play struggling to devise how to write the show out of the hole created by Jinx’s unwillingness to leave. There’s a glimmer of hope a third of the way through the show when, after agonizing what to write for over 20 minutes, the writer begins to show some self-doubt about her artistic prowess. “Yes!” one can almost hear the audience thinking. “Finally some character development and complex internal struggle.”
Alas, the self-consciousness is but a blip and the artist goes back to moping about her writing rut. To make the 70 minutes feel even longer, creator and director Jenny Magnus has all of the characters “sing” in a fashion somewhere between Sprechstimme and recitative for the entire show. The monotonous, rhythmic chanting drags out any spark of energy hiding in the writer’s stagnant artistic struggle into non-existence, suffocating the audience with the slowed pace.
Magnus apparently did have some mercy, as the writer’s mind is personified into four workers, or a “Greek chorus” as she calls it. While it keeps the audience from losing their own minds from watching the world’s most boring soliloquy for over an hour, it’s still wholly derivative of classic tropes.
The lack of imagination would be forgivable if the rest of the show wasn’t so heady. The abrupt, “non-ending” heralded by an ensemble member posing as another actress who’s rented the Prop Thtr space is quite clever and meta, but other plot devices overestimate the general worldliness and knowledge of the audience.
This is not to label average theater-goers as a plebian; even if they actually read the New Yorker delivered to the house every week, this show would still have them lost. What the audience perceives as Bobby Jinx talking into a camera like a curmudgeonly grump is actually a representation of him experiencing “bardos, or the in-between places described in the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.” While this reviewer can’t speak for the rest of the audience, her limited knowledge of Tibetan philosophy renders this spiritual dramatization wasted.
Perhaps she is just too simple to appreciate this show; perhaps a more worldly reviewer will better understand the nuance deeply embedded in the writer’s struggle. But more likely, she worries that even the greatest Renaissance men and women will struggle to find meaning here.
Curious Theater Branch presents “(Not) Another Day” through October 6 at 3502 Elston Ave. More information and tickets are available here.