Friday, April 4, 2014

Recall (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Horror has many genres. Torture porn, for example--which focuses on pretty much what it sounds like. Another is the gothic, a different sensibility surrounding an erotic intimacy with death and sin. Perhaps sadly, less popular these days is the dystopia--and extrapolation of just how horrible our own actions might shape the future. Most famous books/films in the genre include 1984 and Brave New World as well as Fahrenheit 451. Yet let us not forget The Hunger Games...although that trilogy goes against the 'horror' aspect of the dystopia by showing a successful revolution.

Recall from the Visceral Company does not stray into that direction.

Which isn't to say all dystopias should make that choice, but if they also belong in the subcategory of horror, they probably should not.

Eliza Clark's full-length Recall plays some very interesting mind-games on the audience. We do not, for example, notice at first this is science fiction, that its setting must be in our future. After all, the elements that make up the story as we begin don't contain many tropes of science fiction, if any. Two women are in a motel room. Teenaged Lucy (Madeline Bertani) cleans blood off the floor while her mother Justine (Karen Nicole) watches a reality t.v. show. Said blood we soon learn came from Justine's now-former boyfriend. Lucy spilled it. She does that.

Photo: Amelia Gotham
The first hint we're in another world? David (Mark Souza), member of what seems like some kind of underground "helping" people like Justine and Lucy. He says he likes doing good, helping people. Sooooooo...what does that mean? As the play progresses, we find out. In this America, children identified as too problematic are recalled (the slang is to be "fishtanked"). The government's authority in this matter seems draconian at best, exemplified by Quinn (Kevin Grossman) a quasi-goth/semi-punk loner in the school where Lucy begins to attend. He's on "The List." With his parents' full consent, he is being watched and tested constantly. Perhaps more telling is Charlotte (Lara Fisher), David's contact in the government department in charge of recalling, for all practical purposes his runner and controller. Because it comes out David was recalled, and struggles to recall anything of his youth. Why was he recalled, given that he seems so kind? So brave and even courteous? Good question. Incidentally, we pretty soon figure out Charlotte had been recalled as well--and again, we don't know the details.

A word or two here about names. "Charlotte" means "manly." Quinn is "counselor," David "beloved." More of course David echoes the Biblical story of a small boy standing up successfully to a giant. "Justine" makes me think of the infamous novel penned by the Marquis de Sade. "Lucy" on the other hand summons images of C.S.Lewis' Narnia as well as the first and most beautiful of angels, the fallen one, Lucifer.

Maybe I'm overthinking that. Wouldn't be the first time.

Photo: Amelia Gotham
Ultimate, what we see unfold is a tragedy, hence the horror. How, after all, can this story end well? Lucy seems to be a killer, and quite possibly a sociopath. Quinn clearly is not, yet the world has decided he might be so they'll treat him as if he were. Who can blame Justine for loving and protecting her own child, yet who among us can feel safe as long as she succeeds? David perhaps more than anyone comes across as a victim, a man of genuine compassion given the illusion of power but in fact totally at the beck and call of another seeming-sociopath (who routinely takes notes about how to behave in a more human manner).

The result disturbs not a little bit, mostly because of something we might want. Something we might well expect in what is after all a cautionary tale. But Recall lacks to almost any degree.


Quite remarkably--and with a brutal honesty--the play refuses to tell us everything, refuses to spoon feed us any kind of "solution." The playwright does not pretend to know exactly what we should do about troubled, sometimes violent youth. But her work offers an example, a plausible scenario where a society got it wrong. What they do, doesn't work. But one can totally imagine how seductive the idea might be.

Honestly, the play starts off just a little slow, but that soon corrects itself. The set, a somewhat complicated business involving swinging doors, looks great and works well, but I wish it were just a tiny bit faster. Each member of the cast does a fine job, leaving behind a powerful impression. I in fact found myself feeling a whole range of emotions towards each. At the same time, I came to feel a genuine distaste for the society portrayed, a nation that of all the options available to them chose this one. Which means, as a dysptopia, the play hit its target, and got at least this audience member thinking.

Recall plays Friday and Saturday evenings at 8pm, Sunday matinees at 3pm through May 4, 2014. Performances are at The Lex Theatre (one block east of Highland and Lexington) at 6760 Lexington Avenue, Hollywood CA 90038. Tickets are available here or at the box office.

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