by: JK Clarke
Deconstruction is often as important to the artist as art itself, a means of exploring the medium at its greatest depth. It seems to emerge at some point in every type of art: from painters experimenting with abstract art and cubism in the early part of the 20th century to Woody Allen’s “ The Purple Rose of Cairo,” in which movie actors emerge from the screen and interact with the audience. The question is, though, is this artistic self-reflection of more value to the audience or the artist himself? That seems to be conundrum raised by playwright Julien Schwab in his fascinating and completely mind bending “rogerandtom” now playing at HERE.
Like a video feedback loop in which we can see a person looking into a monitor at himself looking into a monitor, deeper and deeper and deeper, “rogerandtom” invites us into a play about a couple of troubled people waiting for a guest to arrive. They’re planning on going to a play that may or may not be about the guest they’re waiting for. And he’s actually in the audience with us. Meanwhile, two of those people realize they’re in a play, on a set, and one of them does not, which becomes a source of great anxiety when the other two “walk through walls.”
Smashing through the fourth wall and playing with circular notions of reality is nothing new to theater. Ionesco, Beckett and Pirandello have played these games before, but not, perhaps, in so many maddening spirals. Schwab doesn’t just break the fourth wall, so much as dance the jitterbug on top of it. Reality is a Venn Diagram of multiple interlocking circles of reality here — not an easy feat to pull off. But, the cast and crew do so magnificently.
Director Nicholas Cotz manages to deliver, clearly and soberly, a script that might easily lose the audience time and again. Or, as lucidly as this type of play can be. And his cast never wavers. As Penny, Suzy Jane Hunt is convincingly lost in her role, frantic and near hysterics at the suggestion that her life might not be her own; Eric T. Miller’s Roger is the at-first casual interloper who would quite easily baffle anyone who doesn’t know in advance what kind of play they’re seeing; and Richard Thieriot as Rich (or William, who knows?), is so wonderfully convincing as the fed up husband and frustrated actor, that one starts to wonder if he’s just going to wander off the stage. And what a stage it is — David Esler’s set design is, like the play, simple and complex all at once, revealing so much about theater itself that one starts to appreciate the importance of Set in a brand new way.
rogerandtom is not for theater-goers who don’t love brain twisting puzzles. In fact, it is emphatically not advised to ingest any mind altering substance (including, probably, alcohol) before seeing this play. You may never come back. But for those who do love reality manipulation and juggling with form, it’s an absolute delight.
rogerandtom. Through August 24 at the Main Stage at HERE, 145 Sixth Avenue (enter on Dominick Street). www.here.org or 212.352.3101 for tickets.