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3 2's; or Afar

Mac Wellman's new play is given a first-rate production, but it remains hard to comprehend. logo
Jan Leslie Harding in 3 2's; or Afar
(© Jim Moore)
Striking images combine with bizarre stretches of dialogue in 3 2's; or Afar, the latest work from experimental playwright Mac Wellman. Director Meghan Finn has put together a first-rate production of the piece, but the playwright's philosophical line of inquiry remains difficult to follow, and the show's ultimate meaning hard to comprehend.

The primary plot follows a man (Quinlan Corbett) who meets a woman (Jocelyn Kuritsky) who runs a puppet theater in Brooklyn. As she takes him through her theater, it is revealed that the place is haunted by mysterious masked figures, collectively known as the Something/Nothings (performed by all members of the company, which also include Jan Leslie Harding, Sophie Nimmannit, and Chuja Seo).

These figures engage in strange rituals and occasionally sing songs. There's plenty of humor in these sequences, as well as unexpected moments of beauty. A highlight is a haunting segment in which one of the Something/Nothings (performed by Corbett) slowly makes his way across the underside of a catwalk in a spider-like fashion, his feet never touching the ground.

One of Wellman's primary inspirations for the play is a text by German philosopher Martin Heidegger entitled, "Dialogue on Language Between a Japanese and an Inquirer." The essay -- excerpts from which are included in Wellman's play -- outlines a critique of aesthetics, and in particular, a central concept promulgated by Japanese philosopher Kuki Shuzo.

In 3 2's; or Afar, Wellman attempts to wrestle with ideas such as this, but he doesn't provide enough background information for the audience to follow his line of reasoning. Instead, the segments of the play that deal with this debate end up seeming somewhat esoteric. Moreover, Wellman fails to bridge this philosophical meditation with the story of the haunted puppet theater.

Nevertheless, the cast members all deliver wholly committed performances, and handle Wellman's stylized linguistic turns with aplomb. The design team also does exemplary work, particularly lighting designer Brian Aldous, who makes regular use of indirect lighting sources to illuminate the actors.

Such a technique seems analogous to Wellman's own elliptical playwriting style, which does not directly focus on its subject, but instead employs both language and imagery to obfuscating effect.

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