Tennis, Anyone? – A (radically condensed and expanded) Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again
By Marcina Zaccaria
A (radically condensed and expanded) Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, a production based on works from David Foster Wallace, makes a strong showing at The Public Theater during the Under the Radar Festival.
The play celebrates the work of the author known for The Pale King, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Wallace died in 2008, but his memory lives on. A…Supposedly Fun Thing includes interviews, anecdotes, and essays. After an original workshop at Baryshnikov Arts Center, the play was commissioned by The Chocolate Factory Theater and performed in April 2012.
The four performers in the 2015 production at The Public Theater are young and hip. The skip in their step is as honest as their desire to get it right, and spit the writer’s text in rhythm and tone. Costume design by Andrea Lauer and Katherine Anick lightly evokes sporting with the performers dressed in sweat jackets, sneakers, and in bare feet. Yellow tennis balls seem to pop off the black box floor. The actors navigate through the tennis balls as skillfully as they are navigating through the words of Wallace. There is a strain and an effort to try to get it right – to make the language heard and find the sense of the moment.
Conceived and directed by Daniel Fish, the play is innovative, but sometimes seems too stagnant. Audio recordings are live mixed during the performance and the text can sometimes feel like a rambling narrative rather than a cohesive journey. Fish, whose previous work includes. The Source (BAM Next Wave) and ETERNAL (Noorderzon Festival, Incubator Arts Project, and Under the Radar), creates a world where words are not actions bounced from actor to actor, but rather, received from headphones and bounced into the floor. The headphones, although not troublingly distancing, create a sense of alienation.
The strongest sequence has to do with our love of sports. Performer John Amir, who also performed the piece at The Chocolate Factory, tells a long story about Tracy Austin. A picture of Austin on the back wall shows the tennis star who won grand slams at only 13 years old. The monologue is a real dedication to the sport of tennis and a discussion of athletic genius. The audience hears the sentiment attached to the stars who make the moment.
At the end of the play, the performers stand in a straight line stage center and speak Wallace’s text into a microphone. The words become increasingly poetic –resonating at different tones while the three actors are speaking. Sound by Daniel Kluger is attentive. Intended as a séance, it is soothing. With the words, we don’t conjure Wallace from the great beyond, but we do take a moment to remember his writing and his impact on the theatrical community.
A (radically condensed and expanded) Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again will be playing at The Under the Radar Festival at The Public Theater until January 16th.