The Future Is Not What It Was

1/5
Photograph: Ian Douglas
The Future is Not What It Was
2/5
Photograph: Ian Douglas
The Future is Not What It Was
3/5
Photograph: Ian Douglas
The Future is Not What It Was
4/5
Photograph: Ian Douglas
The Future is Not What It Was
5/5
Photograph: Ian Douglas
The Future is Not What It Was
Friday February 1 2013 20:00

Theater review by Helen Shaw. Walkerspace. By Michael Rabe. Dir. Jay Stull. With ensemble cast. 2hrs 30mins. One intermission.

There is a destructive force that moves through the ranks of young playwrights, a terrible piece of advice that murders imagination, encourages laziness and yet rarely begets truth. “Write what you know,” thunders the prophet (a terrible writing teacher), and lo, a thousand terrible plays are born. Writer-performer Michael Rabe’s millennials-in-trouble soap The Future Is Not What It Was provides a vehicle for Rabe’s own fresh-out-of-studio acting chops; it has been exactly tailored to his bro-dude persona. But while I applaud making shows proactively with acting-school colleagues, the work should get past its classroom roots—maybe “know” something beyond yourself?—before judgmental strangers are invited to attend.

Roommates Tom (Rhett Owen) and Sean (Rabe) do little but get drunk and play video games. (This somehow allows them to afford a two-bedroom in New York.) Sean—who likes to lie about his name to girls—brings home conquests. He’s not just a sociopathic, unemployed blob, though, since his inner voice asks questions like, “Do the subways ever get tired?” Eventually, cute neighbor Leah (Maya Kazan) makes Sean groggily aware that human connection is possible, and this leads not to heartache, exactly, but at least to Sean’s increased willingness to pitch in with the cleaning. Events go unregistered (a character dies, nobody blinks); logic and interpersonal realities go utterly ignored. Rabe doesn’t care what goes on outside the messy apartment; frequently, he can’t even come up with motivations for the bed-hopping people within it. I suppose writing what you know can occasionally pay dividends, but not when you rigorously ignore the things the world has to teach you.—Helen Shaw