A (radically condensed and expanded) Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again (after David Foster Wallace)

Recommended
4 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Learning that you are about to watch a two-and-a-half-hour performance with no intermission tends to focus the mind. Specifically, it focuses it on the bathroom. So for the ten minutes before Daniel Fish's scrupulous, frustrating, lovely tribute A (radically condensed and expanded) Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again (after David Foster Wallace), the audience at the Chocolate Factory snakes its way down to the tiny bathroom and back, chatting and laughing and trying not to hold up the line. It's a wonderfully appropriate prelude to the astringent pleasures and poignancies of Fun Thing, which features a quintet of actors reciting Wallace texts in a sort of memorial-invocation. The piece can be difficult to sit through (despite the homemade cushions) and the project itself betrays deep anguish. So it's good to prepare for it by practicing—à la Wallace—a kind of mindful lightness—a delight in the silly, the inconvenient, the mundane.

Fish sets five young performers—John Amir, Efthalia Papacosta, Therese Plaehn, Mary Rasmussen and the always-welcome Jenny Seastone Stern—in a room that's empty but for hundreds of tennis balls, tethering the reciters to his computer via extra-long headphone cords. They must then perform whichever of Wallace's interviews or audiobook recordings Fish dials up for them; he chooses a different sequence each night and frequently cranks up the speed on speeches already packed full with verbiage. Amir hops on one leg trying to keep up with a frantically sped-up essay on 9/11; Rasmussen grips her headphones closer to her head, lost in something part-possession, part-tongue twister. Wallace's extraordinary erudition and anthropological curiosity makes for wonderful listening: His portrait of life on a cruise ship (the "supposedly fun thing"referred to in the title) and his analysis of tennis phenom Tracy Austin's super banal autobiography work particularly well.

But there are other essays that are so obsessively detailed and suited to the page that they become painful in performance, warping your time-sense and sending you into a hypnotic state. This, though, also seems deliberate, since Fun Thing seems gripped with grief over Wallace's absence. (He committed suicide in 2008.) A pair of headphones hanging on the wall buzzes with a text none of us can quite hear, and those thousand tennis balls represent serves that will never be returned. Fish wants us to feel like the show is longer than it is; we emerge having had a theatrical experience that's just as intermittently dull and suddenly emotional as a week spent sitting shiva, or the daylong funeral of a beloved friend.—Helen Shaw

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