Archive for August 28th, 2012

Review – Volcano – Vaudeville Theater

August 28, 2012

Or: Lava … And Leave her!

Once upon a time there was a brilliant playwright. His name was Noel or Tennessee or something like that*. He had written some plays that were amazing and timely and deeply illuminated the human condition. He was a success. Time went by. He kept writing but, at some point, maybe because he had been a success, the magic went away. Toward the end he might have been writing out of habit more than because he still had something to say.

This is the background from which I suspect Volcano sprung. It hasn’t been performed since it was written, and although this is supposedly because it was held back to save people from shame, I think there’s a lot to support the fact that it wasn’t rushed to the stage because, frankly, it’s not very good. It’s not even sort of good.

Actually, an argument can be made (I shall do so) that it is bad, really bad, especially if you consider that this play was written just one year before The Birthday Party. Drama had moved on since the 20s, yet as this play opens, we have a woman in a little black dress and a large rhinestone necklace hanging out in a garden while a greasy haired man in a suit – practically a mustache-twirling panto villain – explains to her in comically debonair tones why she’s made a mistake in not sleeping with him. She admonishes him to keep his distance or she will mash a rocks glass in his face – then dramatically (“dramatically”) throws it to the ground and stiffly looks away.

About four lines of dialogue in I was wondering just what sort of disaster I had belly-flopped into (though I was suspicious anyway given that the theater was half-empty). Was Nimax just desperate to get something, anything into the Vaudeville after pulling What the Butler Saw? (The set certainly looked cheap – a few little buildings and some large seashells – which supported the idea of a “anything else might work” approach.) Had they not given the actors sufficient time to rehearse? Or perhaps … the script was just a wreck and Coward was to blame?

As I watched these ridiculously dressed people spouting off these canned lines, as stereotyped as any Sun editorial, I started to feel that what I was actually watching was one of those plays within a plays … with the trope “the really, really bad play where even the actors didn’t seem to believe what they were saying.” Had I inadvertently walked into a parallel version of Noises Off? Could Coward possibly have thought any of these characters were interesting or appropriate for the fifties? I mean, the discussion of sexual desire was a bit more frank, but the hamming and false emotions, was I supposed to believe it?

Was I too far from the exit to carefully leave? Was this level of badness going to be sustained all the way until the interval?

Fortunately, when the next scene started (with new actors to break up the congealed goop between the leads), the urge to gag (my urge, not theirs) lightened, but the triviality of the dialogue and banality of the “situation” continued. Infidelity: really more boring than you might think, not inherently interesting like the script assumes. I sat there numbly watching people over dress, drink too much, and be jerks while a volcano rumbled behind them. My thought: the world wouldn’t miss them a bit if they all fell in, and my evening would perk up considerably.

And with that, I took my leave at the interval. I made it through half of it; you’re stronger than me if you can stomach more.

(This review is for a performance that took place on August 23rd, 2012. The play continues through September 29th. This play was already at the Richmond theater so if you were going to give it any slack because it was early in the run, you would be making a mistake.)

*Most decidedly not Henrik.