“The world is going to be a better place, the world is going to be a better place,” two characters, one older, one younger—both in a bathtub–intone at the end of Adam Rapp’s Halloween/election spectacular, Through the Yellow Hour—it’s like going to see the Living Theatre and having them tell the audience to repeat a utopian mantra (believing they’re inducing us to say something deep and sacrilegious). It also reminds of Lennon and Lenin in a naturalistic set (representing New York, an apocalyptic one, in an alternate history), but some might like to point out that there is absolutely nothing that could be construed as better about sexual promiscuity between a grownup and a fourteen-year-old, no matter their genders or races.
Rapp, and his sometime collaborators (not in this case, though), the Amoralists, have never been ones to avoid controversy. The shocking 2010 production of Ghosts in the Cottonwoods opened with male frontal nudity (Nick Lawson) and Hotel/Motel, in 2011, had William Apps trudging around the stage in the raw (both of these actors are part of the Amoralists theatre group). In Through the Yellow Hour, Rapp gives us naked women, as well—even if a recent mother of twins, the character in question, doesn’t show many stretch marks. The plot involves New York as taken over by Muslim terrorists, but, because that could be considered un-P.C., Rapp makes sure to add that the situation has probably been engineered via corporate financing—it’s always OK to blame a businessperson. In this NYC, people only go outside during the so-called yellow hour early in the day, but even doing this could mean capture and placement in a work or extermination camp. One survivor, Ellen (Hani Furstenberg), is living on tins of peaches in a small apartment where she sells babies on the black market (stay with me) to an adoption agency, whose staff dresses in designer white, and which somehow remains insolated from the violence of a group called the Eggheads(!).
Rapp gets plenty of chances to gross us out with medical knowledge (his mother was a nurse) and refer to films, whose techniques he brings into the theatre—I’m specifically thinking of The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover; Alien; Pulp Fiction; and sci-fi and horror movies, but his understanding of cinema is probably encyclopedic. With regard to theatre, Rapp seems to reference Blasted by Sarah Kane, even if he only delivers Blasted-lite or Margaret Atwood-lite. The externals are learned, the manipulations of our senses are able, this is clearly someone who has a practical knowledge, but, for all the interest in the horror of life, beyond a curio for the holiday, what, of serious import, besides its pretext, besides the sloganeering, is to be absorbed? This is spin-art for the stage to me, rather than a war play.
That’s part of the realization about Rapp’s work—that he’s not as much interested in exposing the human condition as opposed to seeing it through the lenses of others (as if he was borrowing someone else’s vision to make controversial, according to the climate of the downtown art scene). He writes short stories for the stage and, in a play like this, you'll note the differences between the forms of fiction and drama. You'll also wonder if he is exposing us to a vocabulary of feeling that comes to us from film rather than reality. Some may not mind, because Rapp is wildly creative and imaginative and, for most of this play, you can get lost in his theatrical ease. His directorial and visual sense is superb, aided here by designers Andromache Chalfant (set), Keith Parham (lights), and Jessica Pabst (costumes), to only name three of the team. At one point, for example, the theatre is lit only by a single lantern–and, for this goofy horror tale, the dramatist can convince that we’re listening to a ghost story on a campout ready to be scared (albeit nothing more than that). I think even Rapp knows he’s just riffing, explaining, as he does at one point, that a corpse lying on the stage has been left only for the atmospherics.
With Brian Mendes, Danielle Slavick, Alok Tewari, Joanne Tucker, Matt Pilieci, and Vladimir Versailles. Directed by the author. Through November 10 at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater.
Copyright © 2012 by Bob Shuman. All rights reserved.
For tickets, visit: www.rattlestick.org