New York City Theater
The French love the intricacies of language so much they created an academy just for its promotion. So it’s no surprise that “Music Hall,” written by Jean-Luc Lagarce and translated by Joseph Long is filled with attacks and retreats of words, cascading words that double on themselves, words that challenge and provoke. For all its verbal dexterity, however, the play at 59E59 Theaters is a desultory evening, a repetitious, pretentious, self-aggrandizing slog through the morass of a performer’s mind.
Pollinating Samuel Beckett, who often wrote in French, with French-born playwright and novelist Jean Genet, “Music Hall” displays the inner thoughts of The Artiste, here played by a man in drag, who bitches and moans about the inattention of audiences, the perfidy of managers and the impossibility of finding the right stool on which to perch. It’s Theater of the Absurd cross-dressed with Theater of the Ridiculous, “Waiting for Godot” and “The Maids,” by way of Chicago’s TUTA Theater.
Although so dominating the “action” that the evening has all the signs of a monologue, The Artiste is assisted by a pair of flunkies who flit about the stage, acknowledging The Artiste’s needs and acting as head-nodders. They could be lovers, stagehands, fellow performers, pretenders to the throne, acolytes.
Meanwhile, The Artiste works the spectators, sometimes embracing them, sometimes berating them. The dialogue runs to “Sometimes, it happened, once or twice, more often no, I forget, more often, very often,” etc. - you get the idea. His mantra, “slow and unconcerned,” is a perfect description of the show’s pace.
Something more dangerous could be made of such material, of the actor under duress, putting him or her self out there, naked and exploited, before an audience that simplistically asks “Where is the story?” Acting is an ephemeral profession and observers have only faulty memories to remind what was seen, without comprehending the sweat behind the scenes. But what could be a touching evening of the hoops actors go through to entertain has so little trajectory you might want to scream “Enough,” long before it really is enough and we all go home.
As The Artiste, Jeffrey Binder goes for the grand gestures, the feathers (literally) and the exaggerations that the stage demands. We never do discover what made him a great personage, but the script is too busy being stylish to allow for that. As the two clown-like figures who cater to The Artiste, Michael Doonan and Darren Hill energetically and bravely carry out the exertions of director Zeljko Djukic to bring variety to the evening.
At the end, The Artiste says, “They encourage me to conclude, to disappear, to piss off.” By this time, 80 long minutes after it started, “Music Hall” concludes, the actors disappear and it’s the audience that’s pissed off.
--David A. Rosenberg
April 5, 2015