Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Talking to Maybe"

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note: entire contents copyright 1998 by Larry Stark

"Talking to Maybe or, The Great Promise of Arthur C. Clarke"

Original Text and Direction by David Hanbury

Sound Design and Production by Rod Webber
Lights by Emily Culver
"Motorcycle Loop" Video Design and Production by Evan O'Sullivan

Peter Rubijono as Dr.L / Sir Hubert / Arthur C. Clarke.....Peter Rubijono
Jay.........................................................David Hanbury

Normally I wouldn't review a show so long after its two performances, but it's a highly inventive one-act that should have a life after this eleven-o'clock appearance as a benefit for the Chelsea Theatre Works project mounted by TheatreZone. Let me try to describe it, and see if you don't agree.

First of all, there's a television set at the up-center edge of the stage that gets used in four ways. An invisible off-stage camera shows a static wide-angle view the stage itself, so that when the main character --- an inmate in an insane asylum --- has conversations with a fellow patient, the set gives a subliminal suggestion of constant surveillance. Later, the inmate sits next to the set while the other actor moves into tight camera-range, and thus he appears to be talking to someone inside that square goldfish-bowl. During what may be a fantasy of escape, a tape-loop provides kaleidoscopic images. Finally, a participant in an ESP-experiment is shown, presumably locked into a room with eyes and ears covered, trying to guess the thoughts of the inmate who stands onstage fixing his eyes on three strips of white paper that have hung at the back of the stage throughout the show --- while, instead of seeing that image, the televised man babbles a long string of his own fantasies. This bare description may not convince you, but the show was so well-rehearsed that each phase of this was more intriguing than words can convey.

The play itself was in the form of a kind of tape-loop kaleidoscope as well. Scenes and images were repeated, first fragmentarily, then in more detail --- particularly an opening fragment of psychotic rage. First in conversation with the fellow inmate, then in an on-stage interview with a psychiatrist before a room-full of colleagues, the inmate explains that extra-terrestrials use his head as a transmitting device, waves from which force himself, as well as others, to say surprising things they have no recollection of later. He reasons that a conversation with science-fiction novelist Arthur C. Clarke, who does oceanic researches from his home in Sri Lanka, might convince him of either the truth or the insanity of his situation.

Suddenly inmate and companion break free, and mime wild rides on a pair of motorcycles, interrupted with crash-scenes and flashbacks and flash-forwards, until the companion becomes the tropical-hatted novelist himself, quoting ambiguously sceptical opinions of Dr. Rhine's empirical researches attempting to find statistical evidence for ESP and suggesting the final experiment, which collapses.

The entire hour's performance had the fevered intensity of good science-fantasy, and just enough ambiguity to intrigue. All the technical details fit together and were timed to split-second coordination, while the reality-levels of the story kept shifting subtly keeping the audience's mind interested. Apparently I picked up the wrong program for this event, so I cannot credit the writing, the filming, the mixing, nor the direction to any of the people who richly deserve praise for their efforts in each. All I can say, though, is that if the show is repeated, it shouldn't be missed --- and I hope its proud perpetrators will contact The Mirror and fill in all my blanks.


"Talking to Maybe" (4 & 5 December)
Chelsea Theatre Works Festival, Actors' Workshop, 40 Boylston Street, BOSTON

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide