Future Anxiety Can't Quell Contemporary Apathy

05/03/2011 4:00 AM |

Future Anxiety
Written by Laurel Haines
Directed by Jim Simpson

The end is nigh. No, not 2012. That's just silly. The rapture! Some biblical scholars have the end of the world scheduled for May 21 of this year, which, conveniently enough, coincides with the the Flea Theater's production of Laurel Haines' brand new apocalyptic near-future comic melodrama, Future Anxiety (through May 26). In a multi-pronged, skit-driven, loosely intertwined narrative, the Flea's resident acting company, the Bats, actualize our deep-seated fears about the planet's inevitable economic and ecological disasters and impending, though likely not-so-immediate doom.

Hurricanes and tornados birth hurricane-os, "fresh air" is a running joke and "can't spare a square" becomes a universal reality. Oh, and China finally calls in its debt, taking indentured American servants abroad in lieu of payment. "Worthless, lazy Americans," cries Comrade Li (Holly Chou), the abusive, authoritarian slave driver, at the audience, "You see unicycle, you buy unicycle. You never learn how to ride unicycle! Unicycle stays in garage, gathers dust, next to speedboat!" The tables have turned, the planet's population ballooned to 12 billion, and it's our own damn faults.

Drawing on a kind of Shakespearean ensemble acting tradition, the huge cast of 23 scurries about suspended platforms, sturdy, yet skeletal, that hang over a bare stage and tries to come to grips with Haines' imagined reality. The audience is placed in the same position as recently revived characters that where cryogenically frozen during our time, and together we learn of the awful changes that have occurred. Many attempts at breaking the fourth wall—whether explicating the situation, chastising us for out lazy ways, or convincing us to join a space-bound escape—are not always successful. Actors tend to speak at or through the audience, instead of simply to the audience, which almost maintains a naturalistic illusion and just feels uncomfortable.

The production also sets up certain expectations that it fails to fulfill. You enter the theater and they do not hand you a playbill. "We've gone green," they say, "we've gone paperless." Then they hand you a piece of paper. It has a bar code that you can scan with your smartphone (hunk of potentially hazardous cyber-waste) and get the actual playbill online. What ensues must surely be a profound statement that will validate such green-washing and this "symbolic gestures matter too" attitude. It does not.

The blame is not leveled evenly and the work as a whole feels self-indulgent. Suburbanites and McMansion-dwellers bear the brunt, as does an unsettlingly gross caricature of a psycho-Christian on the verge of birthing a dozen more "soldiers" in one pregnancy. But it is the poet (the writer, of course) who turns out to be unbelievably altruistic. For him alone, the prospect of working jobs Americans don't "like" does not prove to be enough motivation to abandon this forsaken rock for another. He keeps toiling, prompting a cloyingly neat resolution and a complete turn of heart from his slave-driver.

Future Anxiety is a shallow exploration of the effects of the inversion of global affluence that stops shy of radical, revolutionary change—the only effective kind. For all the neurotic unease it attempts to stage, Haines' silly fantasy concludes as an unintended calmative. The world will end, and it will be our own faults. But if we're lucky, there'll be a spaceship waiting to take us somewhere where we can make it all happen again.

(photo by Richard Termine)