Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Supreme Minister's Education"

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entire contents copyright 1997 by Todd Olson

"The Supreme Minister's Education"

Todd Olson

Okay, I walked out. I started looking at my watch at 22 minutes, longing for intermission at 43 minutes, strategically planned my route to the exit at 54 minutes, and finally fled between Acts II and III at the 71 minute mark. I'm sorry, but it was all I could take. On my death bed I will regret the 71 minutes I spent inside BCA's Leland Center watching Pure Illusion Theatre's THE SUPREME MASTER'S EDUCATION. But let me be more specific.

I have to admit at the outset that I have never cared so little so fast in the theatre, but I can't speak for the other six paying people that were there. This play, having something to do with queens, guards, and a static journey of sages and messengers, was supposed to have taken place in "an imaginary kingdom outside our domain of time" this I would add outside our logic, or interest too. The night I saw it a woman actually fell backward out of her chair slipping in between the rickety BCA platforms. I did not talk with her, but it's a safe bet her fall wasn't from the impact of the play in progress. Well, at least I sat by the fan.

First, PIT is the brainchild of Derek J. McClellan, PIT's "performance engineer" (director) and founder. In this work McClellan also provides the live music and performs the role of "the Un-Expected Minstrel." But despite the singular committed vision, PIT is a theatre of duct tape, plastic costume jewelry, Burger-King crowns, Halloween costumes, hand made cardboard hats, and plastic toy swords. In THE SUPREME MINISTER'S EDUCATION there was a magical "eye of a peacock," which was in reality, alas, a single feather duct taped to a dowel rod. PIT is a kind of theatre where everyone brings their jammies and calls it costuming, and where set decoration consists of a painting of a rock star on one wall and a cheesy, wooden prop axe on the other.

And it's not that this kind of dime store, Mom and Pop, slap-dash theatre can't have a strong effect if they recognize themselves for what they are, but I don't think PIT sees themselves this way. Mr. McClellan defines EDUCATION as a "tragedy fantastique," "Expedition IV" in a cycle of seven works. Hmm. Look, I'm just not sure that PIT is served best by this kind of heavy-handed, over-intellectualized, aesthetic masturbation. As is, PIT plays like a bad D&D excercise, or an obtuse children's theatre production sporting queens we don't care about, assassins we don't fear, and situations and conversations we don't understand or would never believe.

Semi-apologetically I laughed at certain lines which were not intended to be funny, such as: "Now you're getting both of us lost in the mythology," "Great, another rhyming idiot," "Something seems likely to occur - oh yes, any time now," and "Do you think this episode is what she intended?" As the evening plodded along, other lines took on an absurd meaning, like "This is no longer sane material," "Aren't you just a little bit tired of all this balderdash?," "I wish this night would come to an end," and finally "Was this a mistake? What went wrong?"

But I must state clearly here that I don't think this event was the fault of the actors. Yes, there were times when actors struggled to remember lines and were somewhat hard to understand even in the little Leland Center space, but I still admired this band of people for trudging though the mess that was their production. This cast seemed vaguely committed to the work, even if they were asked to play silly characters like a butch, leopard-clad, Flintstone-ish, Xena-esque warrior, all to the relentless ad nauseum guitar underscore.

I want to have respect for groups such as PIT because they construct theatre differently from most and that in itself is laudable. It is merely their current product I object to. With their lofty objectives relative to a new mythology and the combating of what Peter Brook called "deadly theatre," as stated in their director's notes, I sincerely hope their subsequent efforts have more impact; right now it looks like Joseph Campbell meets the high school drama club. I can only wish that PIT, in preparing for future works, spends more time with a real playwright and a sensible dramaturg than they do with Star Trek.

And since Mr. Brook serves as an inspiration to PIT, I would close with his own words from the chapter on Deadly Theatre: "...It must also be faced that even a permanant company is doomed to deadliness in the long run if it is without an aim, and thus without a method, and thus without a school...(theatre is) the hardest medium of all: it is merciless, there is no room for error, or for waste...Two hours is a short time and an eternity: to use two hours of public time is a fine art." McClellan states "It is our intention to establish a repertoire of works that we can return to explore and expand" Take my advice Mr. McClellan, forget this not turn back, only move forward.

"The Supreme Minister's Education" (till 28 June)
Leland Center, BCA, 539 Tremont Street, BOSTON

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