Monday, March 28, 2016

"iNSIGNIFICANCE" - A question of what really matters

By Judd Hollander

A Professor (Max Baker), a Ballplayer (Anthony Comis), an Actress (Susannah Hoffman) and a United States Senator (Michael Pemberton). People who, on the surface seem to have little in common, but when the four are Albert Einstein, Joe DiMaggio, Marilyn Monroe and Joseph McCarthy, matters have the potential to become a little more interesting. A premise not quite fulfilled in the London-based defibrillator theatre company's production of Terry Johnson's iNSIGNIFICANCE

A hotel room in 1953 New York City. Night has fallen as the Professor is going over his latest calculations regarding his hypothesis of the physical nature of the universe. With a knock on the door, the Senator barges in, demanding the Professor testify before the House of Un-American Activates Committee. Something for which the Professor had previously received a subpoena. The not-so-veiled threats by the Senator leaving no doubt as to what will happen to the Professor and his reputation should he not do so.

Shortly after the Senator departs, the Actress rushes in - fresh from a movie shoot and hiding from her fans, the press, and her ballplayer husband. Said husband arriving soon after and bringing his share of the couple's emotional baggage with him. 

However before this happens, the Actress begins explaining the theory of relativity - the Professor soon suitably impressed with her presentation. That is, until it becomes obvious she has no idea what the process actually means. The Professor pointedly telling her that knowledge by itself is not truth, and it is the understanding of that knowledge which is far more important. One could also argue that without such understanding, any answer you believe to be true is in reality an instance of following an assumption blindly. It's a parallel which could also be drawn in regards to the Senator's dogged determination to root out the "undesirables" in the country (i.e. Communists) and the resulting hysteria it helped feed.

It soon becomes apparent what the playwright is trying to do, is to go behind the public personas of the four individuals depicted and examine the human beings underneath. Each of whom has their own set of fears and insecurities. While all reached their current place in the limelight under different circumstances, there's no doubt that in 1953, just about every person in America knew their names. It's also a testament to these four's staying power that even though none of their names are actually mentioned, there is no doubt in the audience's mind as to their actual identities. Continual references to events concerning each also helps to take care of that.

On the flip side, iNSIGNIFICANCE offers an interesting examination into what happens when a symbol - be it one of sex, sports, fear or science - becomes far more important than the person behind it. Some of the group embracing this mantle, some not caring one way or the other, and at least one wanting to run as far away from it as possible.

Unfortunately these overall concepts more often than not becomes lost amidst the various stereotypical behaviors presented. The one real exception being Hoffman, who offers a drop dead perfect performance as the Actress, while completely nailing the Monroe persona, both in the voice and mannerisms, yet also making the character completely real. Comis, on the other hand, seems to be continually channeling Ray Liotta's performance in "Goodfellas". Which is a real shame, as his character at this particular point in time offers an opportunity to explore the question of what happens to athletes when they stop being athletes? DiMaggio having retired in 1951, and the Ballplayer clearly not being able to move on from his time in the spotlight. An example of this being his continual pride in appearing in 13 different series of baseball bubblegum cards.

Other interesting tidbits explored in an attempt to humanize the characters include the Professor having two failed marriages behind him, and the Senator's steadfast loyalty to his wife - even when being faced with a very seemingly willing Actress. There are also several touching moments when the Actress and Ballplayer talk about having a child. Though unfortunately, each discusses this situation when the other is past the point of wanting to listen. While these instances certainly make one want to know more about these people, in the end the play never goes far enough to allow the audience to really connect with who they are inside.

Another problem was the decision to actually have the show take place in a hotel room, (room 505 at Langham Place on Fifth Avenue), where any intimate theatre or black box space would have worked just as well. The room itself, while certainly adequately furnished, really doesn't add to the essence of the piece and there is very little there that calls attention to the time in which it is set. As such, the setting is almost more of a distraction than anything else. 

James Hillier's direction is okay, but like the show itself, never really allows things to go beyond what is seen on the surface. iNSIGNIFICANCE certainly has a lot of potential when it starts, but ultimately fails to live up to what it could have been.

Featuring: Max Baker (The Professor), Anthony Combs (The Ballplayer), Susannah Hoffman (The Actress), Michael Pemberton (The Senator).

by Terry Johnson

Assistant Director: Jordan Reeves
Designer: Amy Cook
Assistant Designer & Costume: John Brandon Baird
Sound Design: Mark Van Hare
Lighting Effects: Christopher Gerson
Production Manager: Meg Kelly
Stage Manager: Frances White
Production Assistant: Kelly O'Donnell
Box Office Manager: Bryan Hunt
Casting: Caparelliotis Casting
Press Representative: Matt Ross PR
Executive Producer: Trish Wadley
Line Producer: Hang A Tale
Consulting Producer: Michael Francis
Assistant Producer: Rosie Beard
Associate Producers: Eilene Davidson, Emily Feinstein, Ocourant, Gabrielle Palitz, Keren Misgav Ristvedt

Directed by James Hillier

Presented by defibrillator 
Langham Place
400 Fifth Avenue
Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes, one intermission
Closed: March 20, 2016

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