Sunday, February 21, 2016

Jupiter (a play about power)


The subject of Jupiter (a play about power) is fossil fuels – and their absence. Accordingly, the production uses a solar-cell/battery-powered LED system to power a portion of its lighting. And there’s a digital display on stage telling us how many kwh’s and how much CO2 the production has used; it tallies up the sums as the evening progresses.

This is a really very interesting sort of contextualism, and it’s wrapped around a really very clever conceit: someone has removed all fossil fuels from the Earth “in one fell swoop”. Naturally, all activity has ground to a halt, and the planet rots in a post-Apocalyptic waste. The miscreant is now “confined in a pod” near the planet Jupiter. The play is a dialogue between this fellow, Joe, and a nameless woman representing humanity, “the accumulation of all voices.” “I ate too much, didn’t I?” she says. “…and I was so naïve.”

Her initial reaction to him is a cry of pain. But the relationship between the two is complex. She calls him a criminal, but they’re like prisoners shackled together; at one point, she tells him “You’re so boring. Do something.”

He needs her company. His only occupation is playing go with a robot. At one point, he sings to her – “La la la…” He is not merely a villain. He asks her “Why is it absurd for me to want you to be better than you are?”

Eventually, after many years, things on earth move back to normal. “The world has stabilized,” the woman reports, after some carbon sequestration.

But the premise feels unresolved. The extraordinary creativity of the show’s concept isn’t developed. We never learn, for example, by what real or fictitious engineering the two characters are communicating. Nor are we ever told the details of who Joe is (he was an ordinary earth denizen once) and how or why why he did away with fuels.

Joe is played by Jeremy Pickard and the nameless woman is played by Sarah Ellen Stephens. They’re talented, but their acting, like the script, lacks specificity.

Mr. Pickard, who is the playwright, has written some very nice poetry. “Loss is like a premonition in reverse,” the woman says. But Pickard hasn’t mined the potential of the concept. He’s missed the opportunity for a Shavian dialogue in which the dramatic characters personify ideas. He hasn’t written the dramatic characters, only the ideas.

The third performer is Jonathan Camuzeaux, the musician who wrote the music (and who doubles as the mute robot). He plays the sazouki on stage – a cross between the Greek bouzouki and another Mediterranean instrument, the saz. Between this and the recorded sound, the production has a delicate and expressive audio backdrop.

Toward the end of the performance the audience is invited to participate in some karaoke. The individual who volunteered on the evening I attended chose to sing I Will Survive. Then Ms. Stephens gave her the female role to read for the remainder of the show. It’s a clever initiation of audience interaction.

Jupiter (a play about power) comes from Superhero Clubhouse and Kaimera Productions, co-created by Jonathan Camuzeaux, Lani Fu, Simón Adinia Hanukai, Megan McClain and Jeremy Pickard. Presented by La MaMa.

Steve Capra
February 2016