Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Prelude to the Apocalypse


Prelude to the Apocalypse is an hour-long solo show written and performed by Blake Sugarman and presented by La MaMa. Mr Sugarman talks to us about the environmental crisis, and for the first half-hour or so, he remains seated behind a desk, speaking (and this is ill-advised) into a microphone. There’s an hourglass on the desk, and its live image is projected on the back wall. There’s a large, handsome pile of trash bags upstage as well.

“Once upon a time on a planet called Earth…” he opens, and proceeds to discuss the extinction of the dinosaurs, Jesus and Peter Pan, children at Dachau, mountain top removal and other issues that relate loosely, often poetically, to his subject. 

About halfway through the show he tells us that President Trump cited climate change in a request for legal permission to build a sea wall at his golf course in Ireland (!). The thought makes Mr. Sugarman jump to his feet and yell “What is going on?” It’s a genuine dramatic climax. Bob Dylan’s Ballad of a Thin Man plays while Mr. Sugarman (who is indeed a thin young man) sort of taps and sort of runs around the stage and - in the show’s best moment - hides briefly behind the desk.

For nearly the rest of the show he’s in the audience. “Penny for your thoughts” he says, and successfully elicits comments from the us.

Finally, as a sort of coda, our monologist looks to the future. He tells us a Buddhist joke about a farmer whose horse is stolen. When a neighbor comments on what a misfortune that is, the farmer replies “We’ll see.” With rather more conviction, Mr. Sugarman talks about “changing the culture and building a movement” and tells us “It’s up to us to figure it out.”

The script is clever and enjoyable but it lacks a unifying metaphor. The show succeeds through Mr. Sugarman’s youthful - he’s about 26 - charm. This is why he’s most appealing when he’s in the audience talking to us. We can’t help liking him, and liking the performer is what a solo show is all about. 

The show is very well directed by Jacob Sexton, who ensures that is has variety. He’s wisely chosen to remain hidden and to let Mr. Sugarman have his way. 

Still, charm only gets Mr. Sugarman so far. His callow youth is both his strength and his limitation. He’s simply too young to deliver lines like “It’s important to be present but we must also be wise,” believably.

Prelude to the Apocalypse is agreeable if unimportant. I’m sure that Blake Sugarman will develop into a first-rate monologuist when he writes pithier material more appropriate for himself.

Steve Capra

February 2018