Writing as transformation
|The Neo-Futurists presents|
Review by Joy Campbell
“When things happen in my life, I feel that they are being done to me rather than by me,” Kurt Chiang confesses to us from his seat alone at a desk in the center of the stage. When he was in high school, Chiang was diagnosed with cancer. He underwent noxious chemo treatment, and five years later, when the tumor had not returned, he was pronounced in remission. With the cancer gone, Chiang decided to transcribe William Golding’s “The Lord of The Flies” for no other reason than that he wanted a project he could finish. And so, using generic notebooks, he began.
This is Chiang’s metaphor for establishing his presence through an effort that creates a tangible result. Less about this project than about the lives that surround it, this is a sweetly disarming, often funny, always honest piece. Conceived by Chiang and written and performed by Chiang and his real-life friends and spouse, the show addresses the larger themes of fate and life through smaller observations such as Chiang’s cancer, the meeting of soul mates, the inevitability of some relationships, and coincidental parallels between certain books and their lives. But even if there were no larger theme, the material would stand on its own for its crafted writing and excellent performances.
Chiang’s cast mates springboard off his narrative, interweaving their personal stories of struggle, inspiration, and love as related to the written word, sometimes interrupting to expound on something Chiang says while at other times sidetracking things completely, free-associating with funny and touching discussions and revelations of their own. Through beautiful anecdotes and comments, letters read aloud, stories of the struggle to create, and one hilarious discussion about works that have left an indelible mark, Kurt and his friends exhibit a beautiful and vulnerable honesty in the way they look at life, themselves, and each other. Standouts include Tim Reid as the philosopher-intellectual: mellow, secularly spiritual, grounding, and Trevor Dawkins as the loud, impetuous, passionately kinetic voice of rage. Jessica Anne, Kurt’s wife, is a wonderfully expressive and terrific actress with a signature voice; the chemistry and true friendship between them is magical. Seated center stage, Kurt is the hub around which this story spins; his friends enter and exit and revolve around him, emphasizing his work, and at times interrupting and taking him to task for it. Under Tif Harrison’s impressive direction, actors move around the stage and through the audience fluidly, effectively juxtaposing moments of kinetic intensity with the arrestingly quiet solitude of Chiang sitting alone center stage.
The real star of the show is the writing. Using language that manages to be true and smart and just plain gorgeous in its descriptions of everyday things, it acts as a flashlight illuminating unexpected treasure in a dark room. Chiang’s delivery is dead perfect, his huge-eyed winsome face loaded with expression in each simple look, and his connection to the audience established right from the start. Pieces performed between other actors are equally creative, expanding the monologue to the private world of a life shared.
The group’s outstanding effort is a testament to very creative and agile minds, so it’s not surprising that the show contains other elements in addition to the written word: audience members approach the theater through white-cloth-draped passageways containing small tableaus of objects of meaning reveled in the show by cast members: Chiang writing in a book; various personal objects and photos, film, people reading, and books and letters for us to read. This is a fun way to begin, and establishes a sort of welcome surrealism as an entrée to the performance. The show itself begins with a silent ritual at an altar, and during the performance, several nonverbal segments in the show are comprised entirely of rhythm and motion; while these are somewhat visually compelling, they don’t add anything to the story and are more distracting than anything else, although this could be attributable more to their duration than their nature.
Overall, though, Analog is a breathtakingly unusual, wonderfully and cleverly written, solidly entertaining piece that will get in your head and stay there.
Analog continues through April 7th at The Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N. Ashland (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm. Tickets are $10-$20, and are available by phone (773-878-4557) or online through their website (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at NeoFuturists.org. (Running time: 90 minutes without intermission)
Photos by Maggie Fullilove-Nugent
behind the scenes
Tif Harrison (director); Jacob Brown (stage manager); Maggie Fullilove-Nugent (production manager, photos); Anthony Courser (scenic designer); Matthew Baye (lighting designer); Nick Kawahara (sound designer); Victoria Johnson (assistant production manager); Logan Kibbens (installation film); Michael Sullivan (Hall of Presidents artist); Zach Brown, Cathy Crocco, Nick Hart, Amanda Hiles (production assistants)