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The Thing

19 Jan

I Love You Even Though We Fight or Other Writers Are Better Than Me

Carly Wicks in The Thing. Photo by George McConnell.

There’s a particular moment of realization, no that’s a stupid lede, attempting to link together a personal memory blah blah blah I did this you feel this and we’re all connected. But it’s true. I am sitting in a hotel room in Luxor in the south of Egypt on a family vacation. This is only exotic by a degree of origin- I already lived in Egypt, which meant that a really exotic vacation in my world view at that point would have been Wisconsin Dells. I am sitting in a hotel room in Luxor and taking the most exotic vacation, the most transgressive vacation that I could; MTV. And I am sitting transfixed by helicopters and motorcycles and a fat man in a castle with a beautiful woman and I understand nothing really of this violent silliness I am seeing but I know in that moment, that I, too, would do anything for love.

Bless you Meat Loaf, and you Sam Johns and George McConnell and all you actors in The Thing who put together a battle royale of awkward dances and side glances and sublimated desires exploding into Carmen-worthy partner switching showdowns of one-upsmanship to that 7 minute epic. Because that contained more life experience to savor than two and a half hours of Shakespeare (depending on the production) and took a hell of a lot more bravura performance. Jay Gabler of ArtsOrbit over at the TC Daily Planet posted a list of things in response to The Thing, and he is far more assiduous and trustworthy reviewer than I. I also have to re-echo his caveat that I am friends with the creators, and so completely biased in this matter. Sorry, I should have said that first. In that list, Gabler very astutely (for he is a better writer than I, too) notes, “The Thing taught me that plot is optional, like cufflinks. Not everyone would agree that cufflinks are optional, and those same people probably don’t think plot is optional either. Jeremey Catterton and Carl Atiya Swanson are the only two guys I can think of offhand who might value cufflinks significantly more than plot.”

My collection of cufflinks aside, here is a reason for that, a reason I think very particular to the creators of The Thing, to myself, to anyone else for whom The Thing resonated, why plot or the lack thereof should be so inconsequential to theater. Unlike the Greek thespians performing for the audiences of Aristotle, who could create a coercive narrative arc wherein the plot would elucidate some greater truth as to the human condition without inordinate competition, we are constantly bombarded by narratives. Everything competes for our attention to their own plot, from Jon and Kate to how many dead in Haiti. We have news as narrative, television melodrama as life-substitute, we have the vast internet of plot at our fingertips. Sometimes we just need to feel. And in those 7 minutes of “I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)” the non-didactic performance of the cast invites the viewer to bring a lifetime of plot to bear on that moment. Identification on individual terms is the greatest weapon of The Thing.

The Thing comprises a two part pact. The first part, by the creators and performers, that they will fully bring themselves to the performance, both in terms of committing to the performance as it happens on the night but in the full process. The absurdity of the dances, set pieces, short stories, vignettes, sexual proclivities and emotions on display are effective insofar as they are brought about through the lives of the performers and crafted to be presented. This can happen in traditional drama as well, where the performer is so committed to the role that you understand what they are saying simply by what they are doing, the words as printed in the script are a secondary mechanism, a fallback. For ensemble-created non-narrative works like The Thing, there is no such fallback.

The second part is a pact by the audience to allow themselves to be open to it. There is so much there that if you as an audience member are willing to access yourself and bring yourself, and not just your empty husk of a body seeking distracting amusements (which have their own time, place and immeasurable value) then you can have a profound experience at what appears to be nothing. On the night that I went, the audience contained parents and older couples and although I am happy to see parents supporting their offspring, this demanding theatre, especially with The Thing, as created by young people, is a young person’s experience. The hoary old nut goes that history is written by the victors, but The Thing is a challenge to be a part of the battles as they are fought.

So bless, with all the vibrating strangeness, religious tropes and mythical overtones attached to that word, bless. There are so many things I would tell you about the performance. The making of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich as a metaphor for relationships, Billy Mullaney and Tom Lloyd hugging and hitting eachother, coming so close, and not making it, the moment when I heard Mitch Hedberg’s voice in a story about roadside romance novels that made me incredibly sad that he is dead, spitting carbonated water out of my mouth at the declaration that we were good friends with Queen Elizabeth. I would like to tell you about all these things, but you wouldn’t understand. Not here and not now. The Thing is something that happened, and all the seats are sold out, but go down there to try and get on the waitlist, becuase it may happen for you. The Thing supposedly commemorates and event that never happened, but it feels like a continually happening event, one that you bring with you always, if you get back up, when trembling in the dark, and find someone again to love. Meat Loaf sang it, “No one else can save me, no one else but you.”

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. Shameless Self Promotion: Welcome To Dystopia | Cake In 15 - March 12, 2010

    […] from her work on Maria Irene Fornes’ dark tale of Southern squalor Mud to this winter’s The Thing with a detour in between for the M A R S P RO J E C T, which I was lucky enough to be a part […]

  2. even if we never look forward | Cake In 15 - May 25, 2011

    […] ensemble-devised, improvisatory and anarchic play The Thing was a sell-out last January (Cake in 15 wrote about it here) and it landed at the top of Jay Gabler’s “Top 10 Plays of 2010“, and that was […]

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