Posted by: strugglesome | May 10, 2011

Pennies From Heaven: No Face Performance Group Presents Dime

It’s not every day you find yourself watching a play that combines Oppenheimer, radio advertising, strong advocation for cigarette smoking, pop tarts, children and apocalypses.  But then again, it’s not every day No Face Performance Group performs Dime, in fact, this is their first full length piece performed in Philadelphia. A new work developed and devised by the company (Mark McCloughan, Spencer Sheridan and Gedney Barclay) and collaborators Rose Luardo, Laura Edoff, Justin Howe, Gregory James and Rosie Langabeer, Dime explores nuclear disasters (an oddly and unintentionally pertinent topic right now) and family dynamics, firing out dialog and questions about human existence like cigarette smoke. Which they also fire out. Because there is so much smoking or fake-smoking in this show, set in No Face’s uber cool performance space up at the corner of Memphis and Are We Still In Philadelphia? that it feels like an episode of Mad Men, and acts a bit like Don Draper, attractive, fascinating, frustrating, and more then a little abusive.

Everyone can agree that the hardest thing about writing is exposition. The issue of how to tell an audience all the pertinent information that they fundamentally need to know while maintaining the mystery. It’s a cocktail, of sorts, or a tango, you need exposition, and you need mystery, both in equal parts. If there is too much exposition without mystery we stop caring, and if there is too much mystery without exposition we stop watching. Finding that balance is half the battle in any piece of performance, and this work is, sadly, not finding itself on the winning side. The story itself is more then a little complicated. Two children Timmy and Dime (McCloughan and Luardo) wander into a missile silo (you know, as one does) maintained by a crabby and creaky janitor Dawn (Edoff) and haunted (possessed? directed?) by a Full Metal Jacket style military officer (Howe). With the touch of one button, Dime and Timmy happen to decimate the world with a nuclear bomb and are stuck with chain smoking Dawn , her stack of baked beans and pop tarts, and her 1950’s style radio induced dreams. Or are they? Because as our psycho drill Sargent suggests to Timmy, Dawn is a janitor, what the hell does she know about nuclear holocaust? It could all just be a big misunderstanding. Couldn’t it?

Of course, all of this is punctuated with Sheridan’s  interesting but seizure inducing lighting design, puffs on American Spirits (I mean, it’s hipsters in Fishtown, what do you expect?), and a bunch of viciously well done moments floating in a sea of over-long chaos. The language itself is excellent, provocative and real but teetering on the edge of metaphor and funny, if sometimes very slightly cutesy. And the actors themselves are all doing marvelous work, Edoff and Luardo are particularly excellent in their respective roles, Edoff slipping between personalities like a quick change artist and Luardo playing a less violent and more likeably version of Chloe Moretz’s character from Kick-ass. MCCloughan’s Tim is beautifully performed if occasionally written as cartoonish, and Howe’s scary solider is very effective, but sadly completely unnecessary. Howe is doing a wonderful job with a character that simply doesn’t need to be there, instead of adding danger and mystery he actually detracts from both the narrative flow and the audience’s understanding of the work. Part of the issue is that for too long the audience is completely confused as to what’s happening, so by the time we finally figure out what’s happening we feel quite proud of ourselves, we have forded the waters of this confusing canvas and triumphed! And then Howe’s character goes ahead and tells us exactly what we’ve already figured out, which is, frankly, rather disappointing. The problem is that much of the work manages to both over and underestimate the audience, and no matter how much free beer you give us, we still want to know what’s going on AND we want to feel like clever people. We’re very demanding, but that’s the nature of the beast.

All that being said, this work and this group of artists should be seriously commended for creating this piece, because for it’s many flaws it remains a clear and crafted piece of performance that does stand as a whole and has a great deal churning beneath the surface left for No Face Performance Group to explore. As confusing and conflicted as the work is, it is peppered with beautiful moments, particularly between McCloughan and Luardo, excellent use of the space and the set, and penetrative insights into the way we think about nuclear bombs, the end of the world and each other. And so if the totality is more then a little messy and aimless, well, it’s clear that the bones are there, beneath the fat, just waiting to be exposed. Or blown open.

No Face Performance Group’s Dime has finished it’s brief run, but hopefully it will be produced again soon. No Face will be performing another piece, The Beautiful Refrigerator is Open,  in the SoLow Festival in June. Check it out here.

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