Los Angeles Theater Review: HOW TO DISAPPEAR COMPLETELY AND NEVER BE FOUND (The Theater @ Boston Court in Pasadena)

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by Tony Frankel on May 8, 2011

in Theater-Los Angeles

DISAPPEARANCE ACT

After the opening night performance of Fin Kennedy’s existential and enigmatic drama How To Disappear Completely and Never Be Found, someone remarked that, while film is about story, theatre is about ideas. As intriguing as this notion is, I merely nodded in bemusement, for I had just watched a show during which I had no idea what in the hell was going on.

While never boring, Mister Kennedy’s play disappears completely under the weight of its own complexity, with a plot so cryptic that it can never be found. Oh, the writer has ideas, which explains why this is the first unproduced play to win the 2005 John Whiting Award in forty years; director Nancy Keystone clearly has specific ideas, as she designed the set as well; and the production company – The Theatre @ Boston Court – has the idea to present artist-driven theater that challenges both artist and audience.

How To Disappear Completely and Never Be Found at The Theatre @ Boston Court in Pasadena

Unfortunately, at play’s end, we are not inspired to discuss ideas regarding our fast-paced, modern rat race; nor are we moved to ponder how our own lives, like that of the protagonist, can spiral out of control. The problem is that we are so alienated and flummoxed by the too-clever-for-its-own-good conceit that we are challenged instead to figure out what exactly was happening on stage.

How To Disappear Completely and Never Be Found at The Theatre @ Boston Court in Pasadena

At the top of the play, crackling British radio voices broadcast a number of stories about missing persons; the last one tells of a successful advertising executive who has bolted from his office, leaving his belongings and an urn on his desk. Suddenly, an alarm goes off, and Charlie (Brad Culver in a coup de mâitre performance) addresses us directly in third person: “You have a piss…you brush your teeth…you look in the mirror…and things. Are about. To explode.” Charlie faints and is carried into the Lost Property room at a Tube Station where The Tube Man (the always fascinating Time Winters) comforts him in an office that looks like a morgue; Charlie now holds the aforementioned urn, which contains the ashes of his recently departed mum, and the dialogue is littered with suggestions of death (“six feet underground,” “I’m Peter,” et al).

How To Disappear Completely and Never Be Found at The Theatre @ Boston Court in Pasadena

Next, Charlie sees the incompetent company doctor (Valerie Spencer), then he has an Ionesco-esque business meeting, downs a pint with co-worker Eric (Nick Mills), and then meets a pathologist named Sophie (a winning Carolyn Ratteray) at a New Year’s Eve party where she tells him, “Your body was retrieved from the Thames last night. You had no identification. I’ve been working all day to discover who you are.” The last scene in Act One has Charlie visiting his mum’s old flame Mike (again, Mr. Winters), who teaches him how to take on an assumed identity, hence the title of the play.

How To Disappear Completely and Never Be Found at The Theatre @ Boston Court in Pasadena

Although we’re treated to crackling dialogue and captivating characters, we’re not on board from the beginning. Are we in a dream? Is Charlie dead and these are his final fleeting thoughts? Is he so coked-up that these are mere hallucinations? Why is some dialogue fairly straight-forward and some right out of Theatre of the Absurd? Is it a memory play? Is the playwright purposely keeping us at bay?

How To Disappear Completely and Never Be Found at The Theatre @ Boston Court in Pasadena

The cast has us thoroughly engaged, and the nightmarish proceedings are quite interesting (with phenomenal sound by John Zalewski and video design by Adam Flemming), but Mr. Kennedy (who hits a nerve regarding twenty-something angst) never lets us in on what actually happened to Charlie until the final moment, and boy-oh-boy is it a letdown. Going through all that excess (the play runs 2:40), you would expect a twist like The Sixth Sense. No such luck. This probably prompted John Olson’s line from his review of a different production in Chicago: “Even if an audience cut out before the second act, they’d see a good night of theater before they go,” meaning the surreal goings on are entertaining enough, but the ambiguous resolution is unnecessary to witness.

photos by Ed Krieger

How To Disappear Completely and Never Be Found
The Theatre @ Boston Court
Boston Court Performing Arts Center, 70 North Mentor Ave in Pasadena
Thurs-Sat at 8; Sun at 2 (check for exceptions)
ends on May 29, 2011
for tickets, call 626.683.6883 or visit Boston Court

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