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Friday, November 22, 2019

Soul on Display

From the Theatrical Vault Dept.: Here’s one of the couple of dozen pieces I wrote for the the short-lived The Alt, a mis-managed magazine that struggled to become an alt-weekly, filling the void left by Metroland’s collapse. And it’s nice to re-visit the terrific theatrical experience that gave rise to this review.


“THIS IS A TRIUMPH of post-modern meta-theater,” declares the character Kieron Barry, not to be confused with the playwright Kieron Barry although it’s understandable if you do. To which Danielle, his director (within the play, that is; not the director of the play), replies, “Are you sure it’s not just a fuck-and-tell?”

Jason Guy and Bonita Jackson
Under discussion are, or is, “The Official Adventures of Kieron and Jade,” the world premiere of which took place at Catskill’s Bridge Street Theatre, and which brings back to the area the work of a playwright previously acclaimed for “Tomorrow in the Battle.”

Love relationships were scrutinized in that dark, dramatic piece; here a dark, dramatic break-up becomes the stuff of comedy as Kieron Barry (the character) seeks meaning in the abrupt departure of Jade, his girlfriend of three years, a fate similarly suffered by the playwright.

It sounds confusing. It is. It has to be. There’s no keener crisis of rejection in one’s life, and I mean knife-edge keen. And there’s usually deception involved, as when Kieron self-destructively draws a blade across his forearm, producing stripes of blood – only to be admonished by Danielle that stage blood will emerge more easily if he moves the knife this way.

Two actors inhabit the play. Jason Guy is Kieron, bringing a nebbishy goodness to the character even as his more repellant aspects are revealed. Bonita Jackson has a field day as everybody else, quick-changing voice and attitude as she moves from Danielle to best-friend Emma to an Indian physician to priest to therapist and on and on – and ultimately to Jade.

Part of the fun of the piece is the pace at which it moves. It’s built into the script, but that doesn’t always mean it’ll be realized, so all the more credit is due director John Sowle, who also designed the set.

A forced-perspective platform dominates the small stage, and the platform is ringed with bins from which all needed props are fetched. The playing areas are defined with chairs and gestures, with occasional intrusions from a video screen.

Danielle reminds playwright Barry that he’d promised a script about Bill Evans. She’s dismayed to see instead a four-and-a-half-hour meditation on Kieron’s romantic travails. In that respect, it hearkens to Ross McElwee’s 1986 film documentary “Sherman’s March,” which turned an attempt at documenting the Civil War event into a search for love. “Kieron and Jade,” however, has no framing device outside of the facts of the facts themselves, putting it more in line with the phenomenon of Reality Television.

“Kieron and Jade” asks us to sympathize with the former as he puts his very soul on display, yet the shadow of the actual Jade Hendrix hangs over it all as an unwilling (or at least mum) participant. His story is her story, too, and the intrusion includes footage of her in a music video that he directed, scrubbed of the music as he wasn’t able to get the rights to it.

We’re warned at the start that this is a play about “addiction and delusion,” although, in keeping with meta-fiction of the Nabokovian variety, we’re kept unsure about who’s deluding whom.

What keeps the play rolling along very entertainingly is the succession of friends and authority figures Kieron encounters, all of them Jade-like in some way because even Jackson herself is Jade-like, while Jade herself turns out to have a not-too-surprising progenitor (shades of Humbert!)

Kieron is a prisoner of his grief, and Jackson becomes the booming prison guard who hands him an envelope and orders him to “empty out your subconscious,” with surprising results. The absurdity continues: “We have to figure out what your triggers are,” a doctor insists, telling him to pocket a machine called with Arouser 7000, which will sound an audible alarm when he’s sexually excited. And there’s even a touch of Goon Show humor, as when Kieron asks how to tell if a physical wound still hurts and is told, “Press down firmly and listen for the word ‘ouch.’”

He travels from priest to therapist and back again; the action segues from rehearsal-room scenes into the play itself; a sock puppet proves to be violently therapeutic; a deus ex machina snakes its way in from a plane. You may be puzzled; you won’t be bored.

Kieron’s issues are unthreaded in a most Freudian way, but, thus revealed, they aren’t conventionally resolved. In the end, the wretchedness in which this character wallows eats away at the play’s comic fabric, deliberately and effectively.

“Do you have your Trader Joe’s speech ready?” friend Emma asks early on, and it sets up the scene at the end – we know it’s coming – of a valedictory encounter between the titular two.

The concept of fiction exists as an orderly way of containing a sequence of events, and it allows injections of sentiment and morality that less-linear storytelling resists. Would this tale be as effective if we thought it were fiction only? Hard to tell. It’s a well-crafted script, but it wants us to believe that it’s punishing Kieron as it celebrates his concept of Jade – yet I can’t help thinking that the act of writing it this way is celebrating Kieron even as it punishes poor Jade.

The Official Adventures of Kieron and Jade
By Kieron Barry
Directed by John Sowle
Bridge Street Theatre, April 20, 2017

The Alt, 26 April 2017

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