Neo-Futurists. Written and directed by Sean and Carolyn Benjamin. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 20mins; no intermission.
Theater review by Kevin Thomas
The Neo-Futurists smoothly execute a complicated premise with their usual energy in Pseudo-Chum, even if the play itself ends up lost in a problem of its own creation.
Pseudo-Chum is actually three stories told side-by-side about an alcoholic playwright’s pandering new play, Chum. One is a Sartre-esque, unending interview between the man himself (Sean Benjamin, also the actual playwright) and a hyperactive, omniscient journalist (Carolyn Benjamin, also the actual playwright). Another is the terrible play Chum, about a fishing family lost at sea while hunting shark bounties for the Australian government. The final story is about the disgruntled, competitive actors stuck rehearsing Chum despite their hatred of the play and its author.
Much of Pseudo-Chum is an amusing abstract play about how what you ask for isn’t what you end up getting. The playwright is desperate to have his work appear deep and topical, but instead of grand philosophy, the interviewer finds his alcoholism and crippling insecurities revealed on the page. The actors want to be famous and successful, but their only path to glory is through a horrifically stupid play. Rapid-fire bickering dialogue keeps it fun while the show dives into its central metaphor: Are you the shark, or the chum? It’s both the playwright’s grand idea and the topic of Pseudo-Chum.
And that’s where the production ends up at cross purposes. Between laughing at the playwright, at the petty actors and Chum’s bad dialogue, the audience has no respect for anything or anyone in it—but to extract distinct conclusion out of Pseudo-Chum, you’d need to look deeper at the action. Similarly, the central metaphor is mocked at one moment, then taken seriously the next. Pseudo-Chum tends to dismantle its own structure. Chum clearly wasn’t supposed to be just a running gag, but how can I interpret a play that was made intentionally awful for laughs?
It may be why Pseudo-Chum can’t find its ending and defaults, like many other high-concept plays, to sheer weirdness. It’s a funny, strange show that ends up, just like its playwright, hoping to be a bit more than what it actually was.