As with all festivals, the shows are a mixed bag in terms of quality. Of the three productions that I saw, the most daring, experimental, and theatrically engaging is Third Person, presented by Proto-type Theater. Written and directed by Peter S. Petralia, this multi-media work tells the story of two gay men falling in and out of love, probing both the passion and isolation that marks their affair.
Performed in a detached, stylized manner by James Tigger! Ferguson and Carlton Ward, the show makes use of microphones, slides, video, and overhead projectors. The employment of such technology is not merely a gimmick, as it seems to be in so many so-called "experimental" productions; on the contrary, these devices are integral to both the form and content of Third Person, driving the narrative of the show while endowing the production with an aesthetic that seems almost clinical despite the eroticism of some of the images. The still photography slides and video projections by Laura Klein are artful; the overhead projections by J. Morrison are literally cartoons that the actors sometimes fill in with scribbled sketches and notations.
Third Person is a poignant and amusing exploration of the loneliness that seeps into and eventually comes to define even the most seemingly passionate of relationships. "This could be fiction," says Ferguson early on in the play. "But it's not really," adds Ward. The purposeful blurring of such boundaries adds to the work's impact.
The adage that truth is stranger than fiction most definitely applies to another Moral Values show, Dear Dubya: Patriotic Love Letters to Whitehouse.org. The piece is curated and written by John A. Wooden, creator of the award winning parody website www.whitehouse.org. It features actual e-mails from people who got the humor but didn't find it funny and from others who thought that they were writing in to the official White House site.
Both types of correspondence are disturbing for different reasons. The hate mail received is notable for virulent homophobia and/or threatening language, such as the following: "I am not interested in you. It's your loved ones we are after. Keep a very good eye out for them." It's also shocking to think that some people could mistake the over-the-top parody on the website for the real thing, though this does result in some amusing messages, such as one from the "hardcore conservative voter" who urged the site to take down an image that might be seen as insensitive. "Honestly," wrote this individual, "I first thought I had landed on some bogus Democratic site."
The show is staged simply by director R.J. Tolan, with an ensemble of six actors (Elaine Anderson, Mikki Baloy, Dale Carman, Rachel diCerbo, Cleve Lamison, and Robert Larkin) positioned behind music stands and reading the various e-mails. Carman is particularly memorable, playing an assortment of weirdos with a chilling intensity. At a brisk 45 minutes, Dear Dubya is often quite funny and ends before the material becomes too repetitive.
Unfortunately, the third festival show that I took in was extremely tiresome. Françoise changes her mind (the things bondage can do) was written and directed by Robert Honeywell; it tells of the affair between religious studies grad student Françoise (Celia Montgomery) and a troubled atheist named Paul (Peter Bean). Their previously conventional romance is given a twist when they introduce bondage games into their sex life, but their idea of excitement is tying each other up and then reading from religious texts such as the Koran and the Bible. These readings supposedly provoke unexpected emotional reactions from the two lovers, but this is not conveyed very convincingly in either the writing of the piece or in its performance.
Still, two out of three ain't bad.