Friday, August 21, 2009

Edinburgh: The Event

The Event is a play about a play. More than that it’s a play about itself. John Clancy's self-referential monologue picks itself apart as a piece of theatre – it’s as meta as it gets.

A man, dapper and middle-aged, American, stands in the spotlight against a plain black curtain. He explains that what he is doing is reciting memorized words, that this is a performance that he repeats on a daily basis and that every pause and gesture is planned out in advance.

He talks about the role of the audience, listening and watching in the dark, perhaps checking their watches when they hope the performer cannot see them. He talks about the possibility of there being professional observers in the audience and their role in this thing, this happening, this moment of shared time, which he continually refers to as the ‘event.’

He talks about the role of the technician, the power that one can wield through simply dipping and raising the lights, the way the whole mood of a piece can be changed. He talks about the unseen mystery of the stage hands, of the people behind the curtain.

Throughout all this David Calvitto’s performance is superbly controlled and commanding. He makes the audience aware of the fact that the way he modulates his voice, the way he holds himself and the gestures that he uses are pre-arranged, but he remains hughly watchable and natural in his delivery. The piece never feels cold or forced or alienating in its artifice. In the rare moment he stutters or flutters over a line, he leaves the audience wondering whether it was intentional; what if anything is ‘real’ in a situation like this.

This is a self-consciously clever piece of writing and one that continuously turns in circles around itself. When, roughly three-quarters of the way through, Clancy - and, by extension - Calvitto look beyond the event to the world we live in, passing comment on society and the modern need to fill time with stuff, with happenings, with events, the play becomes both less and more than itself; by engaging with life beyond the black curtain, the play opens itself up and is simultaneously reduced by its somewhat proselytizing manner. It becomes something more akin to a lecture and the careful union between audience, performer and writer, falters. In the end the play swings back to its starting point: one man standing in the light in front of watching crowd.

Were it not for Calvitto’s engaging presence and capable performance, The Event would probably end up as a chilly intellectual exercise, a narcissistic dissection that ultimately pushes the audience away, but Calvitto’s balancing act is admirable and the play is never less than captivating

Reviewed for musicOMH.

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