The Invention of Tragedy by Mac Wellman

 

by Susan Hasho

 

There is a bit of a problem here. I am reviewing a Mac Wellman play. It is Mac Wellman’s delight/mission to play with logic, sequence of events and shall we say what we like to call reality and heaven knows what else. If I do my job, I should give you a notion of the plot of Invention of Tragedy, perhaps the quality of the performances and even some quotes from the play itself.

There is no way to sound smart doing this. I would have to analyze the nonsensical and risk missing the things in the production that are profound—or the other way around. Therefore, I will do my best to honor one of the most influential and creative voices of modern theater, not explain him.

Entering this 100-seat theater at The Flea is like coming into your high school meeting hall. There is a stage with an American flag and some sort of box with a cross on it; and on the other side of the stage is a piano, and music stand. There are oblong florescent lights in the ceiling in front of the stage, one of which is flickering on and off—not clear whether the Flea needs to change the light or it’s intentionally that way. Kind of sets the scene for the show.

 

As the narrator (who plays the organ and often comes in to narrate until she doesn’t) says about the play:

“THE INVENTION of TRAGEDY by the chorus of students, all alike and all unalike, at _____ school in _____City in the State of New_____. There are 1001 of them and they are trying like the devil to tell a simple story. Perhaps the story about the tragedy of the SANDWICH MAN with sandwich boards upon which nothing is written and hence with nothing to say.”

The chorus enters, nine women dressed in period costume all in sync except for the late member who is different. Being different in this context is a bit of a problem. These women also display dog-like traits and are obsessed with “chop the Tails off all cats.” There is a sense of anxiety here and the actors are amazingly all together in chanting the script and moving, with very deliberate exceptions. The actors are all members of The Flea’s resident company called The Bats and they are extraordinary. They become different choruses as the play goes on.

 

“CHORUS fractured. Horror horror horror the world is broken broken and come to be fractured.

[To which the ANSWERER replies:]

ANSWERER.

I am here to announce, er. I am her to er here to pronounce and

enounce and denounce and renounce a total that is TOTAL

expostulation of cats er. A total exposure of cats er. A TOTAL I mean

TOTAL departure of cats.

 

The plot moves forward, an enforcer appears to get to the bottom of the terrible problem, problem is solved. There’s a pause in the activities and a hare appears and the chorus returns in a different outfit. I need to stop now because I am at risk of trying to explain and I do not want to ruin any audience member’s glorious experience of confusion and anxiety about not understanding what’s going on; and the surprise of the goofy sight gags.

 

This is the very first production of this play ever and it has found the perfect director. Meghan Finn has taken a script of possibly confusing complex language and layered meaning, and clarified it to the point of exposing its antic funny/sad themes. Beyond all else this is a deeply funny and human experience in the theater.

Meghan Finn is aided brilliantly by choreographer Chanon Judson who is quite adept at creating a unique ensemble that mutates into several choruses with individual actors popping out at designated moments, etc. And like Ms. Finn, works with actors with obvious respect for their creativity.

The Flea chose to honor one of its original co-founders Mac Wellman with a Festival of Plays. And boy, this is bringing him to the attention of audiences with the best production of The Invention of Tragedy I can imagine—no hyperbole intended.

The Bats include Sophia Aranda, Drita Kanashi, Mirra Kardonne, Macy Lanceta, Susan Ly, Alice Marcondes, Madelyn Rose Robinson, Ana Semedo, Sarah Alice Shull, and Zoe Zimin.

The creative team includes Christopher Swader and Justin Swader (Scenic Designers), AliceTavener (Costume Designer), Brian Alduous (Lighting Designer), Espii Procter (Sound Designer), Chanon Judson (Choreographer), Michael Cassedy (Composer), Haley Gordon (Stage Manager), Jake Beckhard and Ran Xia (Assistant Directors).

Photos: Hunter Canning

 

The Flea invites you to the World Premiere of THE INVENTION OF TRAGEDY the centerpiece of MAC WELLMAN: PERFECT CATASTROPHES, a festival of plays by the influential vanguard playwright. Performances run September 7 – October 14 at The Flea (20 Thomas Street in Tribeca, between Church and Broadway, three blocks north of Chambers). 212-226-0051 www.theflea.org

 

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