Tickets go on sale at 2.00pm today for a by-public-demand additional performance of Mike Daisey’s Fucking Fucking Fucking Ayn Rand at Joe’s Pub on Thursday, 17 January 2013, at 7.00pm. You may want to get your stopwatch out for this one; the 15 January performance sold out within 30 minutes after the box office opened. You can buy tickets online and get more information on the monologue here.
But that’s next month. Tonight at 8.00 Kristen Kosmas’ new play There There, directed by Paul Willis, opens at the Chocolate Factory at 5-49 49th Avenue in Long Island City, Queens, in a co-production with Performance Space 122. It runs through 12 January, and more information can be found at PS122′s Web page for the production. Runs the press release: “In There There, Christopher Walken, on tour in Russia with a solo show inspired by Chekhov’s Solyony [from Three Sisters], has mysteriously fallen off a ladder and is unable to perform. Kosmas’s play begins when Karen, who apparently proofread the script once, is asked to go on in Walken’s place. A precarious bilingual performance duet ensues between Karen (played by Kosmas) and her Russian translator Leo (played by [Larissa] Tokmakova) as she attempts to perform Walken’s role. There There is a wildly unpredictable and strangely moving theatrical roller coaster about being the completely wrong person in the totally wrong place at the exact wrong time doing all the most wrong things.”
I reviewed Ms. Kosmas’ earlier play Hello Failure when it ran at PS122 in 2008; for the sake of the archives, I repost it below.
Hello Failure by Kristen Kosmas. Directed by Ken Rus Schmoll. Set design: Sue Rees. Sound design: Leah Gelpe. Light design: Garin Marschall. Co-producers: Shady Lane Productions. With Matthew Maher (Horace Hunley), Maria Striar (Netta), Joan Jubett (Kate), Kristen Kosmas (Rebecca), Michael Chick (Shlomy), Tricia Rodley (Gina), Janna Gjesdal (Valeska), Benjamin Forster (Voice of Japanese Teacher/Tim), Aimée Phelan-Deconinck (Karen) and Megan Hart (The New Girl). Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission. At Performance Space 122, 150 First Avenue at East 9th Street. Reviewed at the 6 March 2008 performance.
Kristen Kosmas’ story of seven submariners’ wives marries Chekhovian realism to a language reminiscent of Gertrude Stein for one of the best new plays of the season.
After an eleven-hour day at work yesterday I was tempted to just head home for an evening with Gordon Ramsay, but instead I felt drawn to get to a theatre — any theatre — to remind myself why I was working so long and hard at my day job in the first place. So I took a chance, made it up to Performance Space 122 and handed over my $18.00 to the box office staff just in time for the 8.00pm curtain of Kristen Kosmas’ new play Hello Failure, mainly curious to see a very rare straight, text-based play at a venue that spends most of its season presenting less mainstream forms of theatre.
Based on Hello Failure, I hope they do it again and again and again. Kosmas’ play is one of the brightest lights of the season. Though my regular readers know that I resist writing anything that could be constituted as a pull-quote, I’ll offer a few here before considering the play itself: Kosmas is one of the most exciting and accomplished new voices in the American theatre. Though small in scale, Hello Failure is rich in imagination and lyricism, and the ten performers deliver Kosmas’ musical text with flair and panache. And it deserves a nice long run.
Realism is far from a dead thing in the theatre, and American playwrights are particularly drawn to it, especially that domestic naturalism exemplified by Chekhov: the discovery of universal forces beneath the everyday events and discourses of seemingly undistinguished individuals. Following an overture of sorts performed by the entire cast, the play wanders through the course of a day spent by six women gathered together in a conference room: a support group for the wives of submariners, who (in an all-volunteer Navy, you understand) have chosen to submerge themselves beneath the oceans for months at a time, leaving their wives and partners in a peculiar state of in medias res until their return. As in Chekhov, there is a thin plot: one of their regular number, Rebecca (performed here by playwright Kosmas), who seems to be having a breakdown in her bathroom, has not arrived; a “new girl” (Megan Hart) is joining the group for the first time. And I give nothing away when I say it all ends without resolution, but with, if not hope, then a determination to go on.
Hello Failure‘s obvious Chekhovian forebear is Three Sisters, but the linguistic mother of it all is Gertrude Stein. Comparisons are always odious, and Kosmas has a unique, idiosyncratic voice all her own that avoids both baroque affectation and naturalistic reportage such as common slang, but the influence is there. Asked to describe his life in three words and an object, one character responds, “Water. Water. Water. A glass of water,” a fully Steinian construct. And because her language is elemental, Kosmas is able, without stretching too far, to locate common language within common physical elements. Water and air are the two controlling images of the play: Michael Chick as Shlomy,
with whom one of the characters may or may not be having an affair, delivers a wonderful aria on his dead brother, who had been fascinated by both water and air.
I use the word “aria” advisedly. Director Ken Rus Schmoll seems to have cast his performers in part for the timbre of their voices: as the six women in the conference room spend the day together, their stories are told as solos, duets, trios and quartets (there are a number of especially effective duets between Joan Jubett as Kate at stage right and Kosmas, trapped in her bathroom at stage left). Language itself then becomes key, this particular issue focusing in Aimée Phelan-Deconinck’s Karen. Feeling desexualised, she decides to learn Japanese in an attempt to reconnect with the world and her body through a new, unfamiliar discourse — an attempt which fails with a particularly comic coup de theatre that I won’t disclose here.
Hello Failure is an uncommonly rich play, which avoids the self-consciously wry and kooky, gratuitously coy and winsome Surrealism Lite that seems to infect many new American playwrights. Among the remarkable crop of young playwrights currently at the margins of the mainstream theatre (hence this play’s production at the decidedly non-mainstream PS122), Kosmas’ play resembles the work of Jenny Schwartz, whose God’s Ear opens for an off-Broadway run at the Vineyard Theatre later this spring. But Kosmas trusts her language and performers more, avoiding the sometimes melodramatic reaches of Schwartz’s narrative.
The spare design of Sue Rees (sets), Garin Marschall (lights) and Leah Gelpe (sound) focuses all the audience’s attention on those wonderful words of Kosmas’, as it should. A fine ensemble cast also features Matthew Maher as the ghost of submarine inventor Horace Hunley (maybe), Clubbed Thumb’s co-founder Maria Striar as the uptight professional Netta, and Tricia Rodley a delightfully spiky Gina. But really, singling out individual performances here detracts from the extraordinary ensemble work. A fine downtown cast in a terrific new American play — one more pull-quote, then, for the road. You can see it at PS122 through 22 March.