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The Evening: Theater review by David Cote
In nearly 20 years of rigorous, distilled play-making that strips away the pretensions of text, design and performance, Richard Maxwell has always made actors disappear. Not behind a smoke screen of character or conflict; people in his worlds are perfectly visible, often facing front and speaking in clear, uninflected tones. It’s acting itself he tries to make vanish, replaced by the pure phenomenon of a body in space. In The Evening (copresented by The Kitchen and P.S. 122) Maxwell pushes this erasure tactic to its logical conclusion: He subsumes an actor in a devastating wasteland of white.
That’s as spoilery as I’ll get, since the night begins in one place and ends in a different (almost Romeo Castellucci–like) one. The first portion of this roughly three-part show has the blond, dead-eyed young Beatrice (Cammisa Buerhaus) sitting at a table, reciting what seem to be journal entries Maxwell wrote during his dying father’s final days. Buerhaus reads in the usual Maxwell-deadpan style. Soon the gangsterish Cosmo (Jim Fletcher) enters with pizza, dressed in the saddest tan-and-purple tracksuit you’ll ever see. Next comes Asi (Brian Mendes), a steroid-addled cage fighter with a busted face.
Beatrice serves them beer from the bar, checking her cell phone and blankly registering Cosmo and Asi’s blustery banter. A three-piece band arrives (James Moore, Andie Springer, David Zuckerman) to play melancholy pop tunes underneath the dialogue. Beatrice wants to go to Istanbul; Asi wants her to stay; Cosmo asks for a bag of coke. Beatrice, who describes herself as a “prostitute slash bartender” is sexually entangled with both men.
In some ways, The Evening feels like a throwback to Maxwell’s earlier plays (House, Cavemen): territorial struggles in closed spaces between broken losers on the edges of society. But then he pushes the story into a surreal, self-conscious zone, a critique of his own postdramatic tendencies, the enervated Midwestern Gothic. “We live in this garbagey void, of all the old tropes of standing still and forgotten dreams,” rages Asi. “It’s a…masculine world coming from the container, with triangles and tired heroes.” Indeed, the middle section is fueled by humor and energy that comes from the interplay of Fletcher’s sleazy, hedonistic manager and Mendes’s rageful warrior, but Buerhaus remains the mysterious fulcrum between them. Keep your eye on her.
Like most of Maxwell’s recent work (which has become at once increasingly fragmented and lushly lyrical), The Evening resists interpretation beyond the big, obvious themes (death, connection, escape). Its most conventional feature is the recurring battle over a woman by two men (also the focus in last year's Isolde). Press notes say that this is the first part of a trilogy inspired by Dante’s The Divine Comedy. Maybe the connection will become clearer in future segments. Still, no one goes to Maxwell’s plays expecting tidiness—emotional or literary. He buries the bodies, then pats down the shovel marks.—David Cote
The Kitchen (see Off-Off Broadway). Written and directed by Richard Maxwell. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 15mins. No intermission.
Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote