By Joe Straw
Alfred Hitchcock popularized the term “MacGuffin”. It is a plot device, which catches the audience attention and drives the story. No matter how you spell it, a MacGuffin can mean everything or nothing at all.
“It is an apparatus for capturing lions in the Scottish Highlands.” - Alfred Hitchcock.
“It is a milking apparatus for the Mongolian ferret.” *
“It is a rope tied around the neck of a territorial hippo bull which is used to calm him. (But, this only works in Nebraska.)” *
An example of a MacGuffin would be the mysterious blue bag that drives the story in The Web written by Michael John Garces and directed by Alyson Roux at the Art/Works Theatre in Hollywood and thoughtfully presented by the needtheatre through October 17, 2010.
The Web is an absorbing narrative of intrigue where one needs to pay special attention to follow the story or expire in a maze of exponential thought.
Think of The Matrix without the special effects. Guns, kidnappings, thugs, long trench coats, curvaceous legs in high heels, blood, fistfights, shootings, killings, and guerilla minds games throughout this play. And this, over a period of times and locations. (Who would have thought one would be transported to Paraguay on this night.)
Ultimately, this story works better if one immerses oneself into the main character.
As the play starts Chris (Ian Forester) is spending a late night alone at his computer when something mysterious happens on his computer screen. By mistake he has come across information from another person (Chris #2) who has the same name, same birth date (different times), and a mother and father with the same name. The coincidences are not to be imagined.
He tells his friend David (Tony Sancho) about the unusual similaries when a blue bag (the MacGuffin) appears at the foot of his chair and he accosted by two unfriendly government officials, Kepesh (Edgar Landa) and Warner (Justin Huen).
(Unlike Hitchcock the main character in this story does not appear to be completely innocent of misdeeds and therefore we don’t completely have an emotional stake in his character and his well-being.)
Kepesh and Warner seem to be made up names on the spur of the moment. They seem harmless at first but become very ruthless when they find out Chris has, through confrontation, inexplicitly claimed ownership of the blue bag. (Why he does this, one is not sure.) David, his friend, is instructed to get lost.
Later that night Arrowsmith (Stan Kelly), another official of some sort, breaks into Chris’s apartment beats him up and tells him that he’s on his side. It is a relationship based on an emotional mind game so you’re not really sure if Arrowsmith is real. Certainly, the fist to the groin is real enough, therefore he must be real.
Arrowsmith tells him Kepesh and Warner are not who they make themselves out to be. He instructs Chris to view their storefront to prove their agency doesn’t exist.
Later, Chris meets with his girlfriend Stephanie (Betsy Reisz) when Kepesh and Warner accost them once again.
All of this has got Chris in an emotional state of confusion. When he returns home he is immediately put into another state of mystification when he finds Arrowsmith and a stunning accomplice Lina (Amanda Zarr) in his apartment doctoring their wounds.
Arrowsmith leaves Lina in the apartment and when his girlfriend, Stephanie comes into the apartment she find the two of them in a slightly compromising position.
David and Stephanie decide they want no part of Chris’s shenanigans. His life has become too complicated and he’s in too much trouble and they are deserting him.
And then the fun begins.
Forester as Chris is whipped from the opening moment. His character has nowhere to go. His objective is not totally clear and he is basically at the whims of those who create the action around him. As stubborn as he is, he never once contemplates moving over to the other side.
Sancho, as David, is stuck in the same predicated. Not able to help his friend or himself for that matter. It is curious that his objective of non-involvement gets him into a serious predicament and ultimately he loses control. His moments are not clear particularly when the final bell has rung.
Landa as Kepesh is a very interesting character. Mild in manner and scope he pushes the button with mostly his wit and his words. This is a very fine performance. A slightly enhanced character trait would only add to his performance.
Huen as Warner is brutal. Not willing to give an inch in his viciousness to control all around him. A henchman, but he is without a character that controls the action on his own terms. This would be something he needs to looks into but nevertheless a fine performance. And his Spanish was impeccable.
Kelly as Arrowsmith is an interesting character. Oddly enough there was a point in which one thinks he’s a figment of one’s imagination. Certainly this needs to be cleared up in order not to confuse the audience.
Reisz as Stephanie accommodates nicely, but certainly, there’s got to be more in her character. She is either an accomplice or she is a conduit to the action on stage. Still, a fine performance.
Zarr (Lina) was fascinating. An actress you cannot take your eyes off of and she has the look of a James Bond girl. Certainly, as physical as the role was, one would think she stepped off the Bond truck. She has a very nice transformation into other characters as well.
All of these actors have worked remarkable hard to clear sets, create new sets, and move walls up and down stage in complete character.
Michael John Garces has written a play that is fascinating but ultimately is too encompassing in scope to be grasped. There is too much information and not enough is made of the moments to clear up the action on stage. People are shot and killed throughout this show and they magically come back to life without the slightest explanation or thought. So when the final person is killed, we don’t believe it. Also, Chris #2, seems to be in Paraguay in a hospital bed, face destroyed and paralyzed from the neck down, or is this Chris #1? One is not really sure.
Alyson Roux, the director, keeps the play moving expeditious enough but doesn’t completely take the time to explain what is going on on stage. Maybe it is clear to the cast and crew but not with the audience. For example, all of the action is done for one purpose and one purpose alone and when that is accomplished, we as the audience, don’t get the objective has been accomplished. These moments cry out for an accumulated effect if it is to reach the final conclusion. In a game of winners and losers we only have losers at the end.
Is this play an indictment on our current state of affairs with renditions every three minutes? Or is it a play that highlights the ability of our spy agencies to confuse a nation into believing something they may or may not have seen. One can either be paranoid, like the main character, or start demanding answers to those we elect.
- Joe Straw
Art Works Theatre
6569 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90038