Saturday, November 10, 2007

A Thought About Raya

Photo/Ericka Heidrick

Few people right now are happy about losing their Broadway tickets, but I was ecstatic, since it gave me the opportunity to catch the limited run of The Debate Society's first play, A Thought About Raya. This play, based on the work of Daniil Kharms, also provides insight (if The Eaten Heart and the upcoming Untitled Auto Play are any indication) into the largely vignette-based plays of TDS. Raya is their most nonlinear, an experimental predecessor, but the looseness of the evening allows for great stage magic. Anything can happen on Oliver Butler's stage: Kharms's unpredictability enables it, as do Butler's collaborators, the wonderfully frazzled and excitable Hannah Bos and her straight man, the deliberate yet modest Paul Thureen. The years spent as a tight-knit company have only solidified the chemistry between performers, and their dedication to Butler's staging is impeccable, allowing for realism to abruptly turn to fantasy, as when Daniel (or Daniil), who is trying to write, suddenly finds that his arms have become literal utensils. Once the plastic curtain that divides us from the performers is ripped down, the show is an exciting romp through the absurd ideas that Daniel has covered the floor with. Each piece is wildly different from the next, and they erratically jump, loop back, and reverse themselves, just as with Kharms's own writing. It's quite enabling, so long as you stop looking for meaning: a stick of butter, swallowed in one scene and regurgitated later on, is just a stick of butter, with inherent comic value, and nothing more. Absurdism is, by nature, better suited to comedy than drama, but the melange of ideas allow TDS to dip into a little of everything, as with a tragic, almost balletic, drowning. In one moment, Bos and Thureen recounting a series of increasingly gory murders, all while gleefully shuffling around a suitcase in a vaudevillian jaunt; later, the two stand before us, silently appraising the audience in their attempt to follow the voiced-over directions on humor: "Stand silently until someone laughs." Few performers can get away with such stunts, but based on my experiences with TDS, I suspect they can get away with just about anything, and I'm happy to let them do so.

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