On Bckseet’s Raised in Captivity

Posted: April 17, 2009 in Braak, poetics

In the long run, since I’m trying to find work in the theater here in Philadelphia, it is probably NOT a good idea for me to write posts like this.  Positive or negative, the smart thing to do is just keep my mouth shut, or else just be non-commitally enthusiastic about everything.  However, bad choices are my stock and trade, since it is in my nature that all of my decisions are made rashly.

Right now, I will talk about Bckseet Productions play Raised in Captivity, and in case you guys think that I’m one of those jerks that hates everything and only ever bitches and moans, let me be 100% clear on my feelings:

I really enjoyed it.

Ha!  You weren’t expecting that, were you, you judgmental bastards!

Anyway, let me talk about direction and acting and stuff first, because I have some script criticisms, and I’d like to save them to the end.

The play revolves essentially around the characters of Bernadette and Sebastian, two extremely neurotic twins.  Bernadette is played by Kate Brennan, who is gorgeous and hilarious and I don’t know why she just isn’t in everything.  Why are they doing plays without her?  I don’t know.

This is not to disparage the man playing her opposite number–a fellow named Josh Totora, also hilarious.

In fact, everyone was pretty great; with a light touch from director Greg DeCandia, they managed to firmly secure the humor in a play that otherwise could have collapsed beneath its verbose histrionics.  Fortunately, it doesn’t; the characters traipse around their abstract little set (which is my favorite kind–I loved this set, apparently Jacob Walton designed it; that’s what it says in my program), take and double-take and everything, and *whew*.

Because, as I said, I think that there are some problems with the script.  Which is NOT to say that I think the script is bad, because I don’t.  There was a lot of funny stuff in it, a lot of wise stuff in it, a lot of deep stuff or whatever, if you like deep stuff.

The play fits fairly neatly into my American Theater taxonomy: order Seriosa, genus Familia, species mortis–a deceitful matriarch dies, forcing the aforementioned estranged siblings to reunite at her funeral.  At the end of the first act, a terrible secret is revealed.

But here’s what’s weird:  this terrible secret has virtually no impact on the action of the play.  Or, rather, the terrible secret is the motivating factor for the only action of the play, which doesn’t begin until the second act.

Usually, when you’re watching a play, somewhere about fifteen or twenty minutes in, the points of action coalesce, creating a kind of constellation that will serve as the frame for the rest of the piece–they suggest a trajectory that will either be fulfilled or overturned.  Not this one–the whole first act leaves you waiting for the skeleton of a point to be revealed, but nothing.  The characters come in, they behave peculiarly, they exit.  New characters come in, behave peculiarly, exit.

It’s tolerable, certainly, because the writing sparkles and the peculiarities are funny–but after an hour of it, you start to wonder why the hell you should care.  The whole business with the mother and her terrible secret–which is alluded to periodically–is the most egregiously pointless element, and has the feel of either a) the idea that began the piece, and was then abandoned as the playwright found something more interesting to write about, or else b) something patched into a play because the playwright was worried that this one wouldn’t fit on my chart.

The familial baggage of Raised in Captivity could have been excised without harm–a merciless editor would have insisted on it.  In fact, cutting out some of the dead weight would have served the play immensely, because it would have cleared up some problems in the later scenes.

See, the play already runs two and a half hours long, and this results in an interesting kind of a problem; I recognize what’s happening because I am often guilty of it myself.  In order to justify actions that occur at the end of the play, the characters have long monologues explaining their motivations or their reasoning.  This is problematic, because it smells like justification; they’re doing something that didn’t make sense based on previous action and the playwright, rather than retooling the early action to make it all jive, is trying to talk his way out of it.

This is a common thing for playwrights to do; we tend to believe we can talk our way out of everything.

But!  A little more room in the first act–because the business with the Familia mortis has been extracted–would leave space to develop those character arcs a little more precisely.

Hahah, what am I doing?  Am I backseat writing BCKSEET’s plays?

Yes, a little.

Whatever, the play is good, go see it.  I think your ticket price includes a free drink, so you’d be stupid NOT to go.

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