Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Phoebe Zeitgeist Returns to Earth (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

The City Garage latest show Phoebe Zeitgeist Returns to Earth is another complex piece of dream theatre by Charles Duncombe. This marks the second of his plays I've seen.

Conceived as a sequel the play Blood on the Cat's Neck by German playwright/film director Rainer Werner Fassbender, this work focuses on an alien Artificial Intelligence looking to issue a report on the inhabitants of this planet.  She lands in the city of Los Angeles during a Presidential election!  What a lovely opportunity to see humanity at its most raw and honest!

Or is it?

Credit: Paul Rubenstein
Therein lies much of the question as to whether any specific person will get much out of the show.  Back in the 1980s, while living in New York, I saw a fair number of plays by Fassbender.  His vision remains a vivid one to this day and so a sense of deja vu came with watching the performance.

Phoebe (Megan Kim) arrives and almost instantly begins encountering others, starting with the Cop (Zack Sayendo) who notes she shouldn't walk around naked like that.  Yet he offers to look the other way in return for sexual favors.  Phoebe has zero notion what he means and never does learn English.  Along the way she meets a Garbageman (Bo Roberts) who yearns for yesterday he remembers as better than today.  Later a suave Gigolo (Andrew Loviska) makes his profession sound almost kindly, countered by a Homeless Vet (Anthony Sannazarro) who can no longer function in the civilian world.  A English Professor (Trace Taylor) who comes on to Phoebe in a genteel sort of way, a ruthless Foster Mother (Mardaweh Tempo) who insists this is a hard life and if taking care/ignoring a bunch of orphans gets her some income, then great!

Credit: Paul Rubenstein
If you're suspecting we're getting a cross section of humanity--or at least America--you're not far off.  At least of the middle and lower class.  Phoebe never seems to encounter the relatively few rich and powerful.  Instead she meets (and scans) a College Girl (Lindsay Plake) with a history of sexual abuse she's still trying to process, a Porn Star (Kate Rappaport) turned skilled businesswoman, an Invisible Boy (Jeffrey Gardner) whose head brims with conspiracy theories and/or simply delusions or hallucinations, a Scary Girl (Kat Johnston) fairly bubbling with rage, an 80s Rock Star (David E. Frank) cruising on memories that haven't got much juice left, and finally the Activist (Johnny Langan) full of passionate ideas about what we should do to make the world better.

Part of the whole feel of this play, and in keeping with Fassbender, is how this last character increasingly seems like the least effectual of the lot--which is startling high bar.

Credit: Paul Rubenstein
Although everybody begins with the daunting task of acting to someone who doesn't respond (but they must presume she is), the cast eventually starts interacting with one another.  The whole point of the play eventually reveals itself--their interactions with each other barely change from with the totally alien, uncomprehending Phoebe Zeitgeist.  In a way they are worse!  Because they end up lying to each other as well as themselves.  More, while Phoebe shows no compassion or kindness she at least is never cruel.

Not so everyone else.

Fassbender's world view (at least as seen in the plays I've seen) was unrelentingly dark.  This play mirror or echoes that, every single character seems to devolve into a worse version of the person we initially meet--or, as is implied, they become more purely themselves.  Eventually everyone is on stage and begins arguing about the election, then everything involved in it, then every detail of each others' lives.  It becomes something like a mini-riot from which Phoebe emerges to give a devastating report to her far-off creators of life on planet Earth.  She notes the strange four-limbed mutant parasites are doomed to naturally make themselves extinct.  So, good news for the universe!

What we the audience experience is this story told with the focus of a laser beam, a dark and fierce critique of everything horrible we as a species do to one another--not in terms of nations or wars, political power or social policy, but in how we treat one another as individuals.  That focus is the direct result of efforts by the cast and director Frederique Michel's successful efforts in bringing these words to (disturbing) life.

Phoebe Zeitgeist Returns to Earth plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm until November 13, 2016 
at City Garage, Building T1, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Avenue, Santa Monica CA 90404.

Note: Sundays are "Pay What You Can" at the door.

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