“Seeing things in movies, believing that’s how life can be.” Some kids grow up thinking that adult life is going to be like it is in movies, others think it will be like it is in books, others might go for the stage, but most of us, I think, have some fictional point of reference for the future when we’re young. What I find odd about the friends of mine who lived a cinematic youth, is that it’s a lot more enduring for them in adulthood than the ones who followed books. An old friend from high school was just in town for a couple of days and all his reference points for the city and for his current situation in the world were from films. I don’t know that many people who quote literature when trying to pinpoint how they feel about the status of their workaday life or when choosing what beverage to buy from the bodega, but the film geeks will do it every time. Then again, maybe it’s just the company I keep.
is a play that lives in the ether of Hollywood, pulling random snippets down from the celluloid heavens and wanting them to inspire something in otherwise ordinary lives. Among the seven characters there are four different relationships that drive the story – the guy with the accent (Daniel Popa) and the sad lady (Jen Taher); the guy with the accent and the sad guy who sings (Joey Williamson); the boss (Brad Love) and the secretary (Franny Silverman); and the boss and the Brazilian lady (Kim Gainer). There’s a sort of maybe thing between the secretary and the private dick (Peter Allen Stone) who appears later in the show, but it’s more pantomime than romance. Essentially the play is about not getting what you want and it follows the love plots of many famous films – the guy with the accent needs a green card, the sad lady wants someone to love her, the secretary wants excitement and drama in her life, the boss wants something similar but not with the secretary. The detective and the Brazilian chick don’t have a strong desire for any one thing in particular, they’re there to shake things up a little bit for the others. The story doesn’t stray far from the love plots, not in an epic or melodramatic sense, more in a Woody Allen-type love-you-half-as-much-as-I’m-interested-in-concentrating-on-myself sense.
And that’s pretty much it. The characters don’t divulge much beyond what they want. There aren’t a lot of specifics that link them to a certain time or place. They float in a sort of hazy world of unrequited desire. There are very brief clips and stills from The Big Sleep
that play on surfaces high above the action, and there’s a noir-ish film projecting in chunks on the back wall, starring some of the characters in the play. But you don’t get much of a chance to understand any of the characters in the show aside from their archetypes, as the play shifts fleetingly from one character’s mild heartache to another’s.
The company, The Shalimar, mashes up a few theatrical styles in the piece, which shows their experience. They’ve toured the Fringe circuit, both in Edinburgh and New York, and know how to do visually stimulating low-budget theater – at least a couple of them are clearly of the filmic persuasion. And there’s a lot of singing in the show – chords and melodies that would ring comfortably in the ear of someone who likes Off Broadway musicals. It’s the least abstract show I’ve ever seen at the Ontological, particularly as part of the Incubator series – a seasonal program that is something of a rite of passage for young experimental companies. And Shalimar is an unusually lean one – choosing to stay outside the rigamarole of full nonprofit status, they go through the service organization Fractured Atlas to raise money, and there are only four members in total – three actors and a director. That slimness allows them a lot of leeway to take on new work and move easily from theater to theater or fringe to fringe. We’ll see where they go from here. As far as this show is concerned, I would recommend it to people who like musical theater in the traditional sense, twinged with some nods to film noir and a little bit of nonlinearity thrown in, and who also can’t kick the habit of thinking that life ought to be like it is on the big screen.
runs at the Ontological Theater
(131 E 10th St) through June 13.
(photo credit: Yi Zhao)