by Collin McConnell · March 19, 2014
Indie Artists on New Plays #63 Collin McConnell looks at Alone in Triptych now playing at HERE
Men are bad. Bad bad bad.
This is, roughly, what I saw as the point of Alone in Triptych. Which is unfortunate, because I was expecting something "alternately thrilling, disturbing, and darkly humorous" where "mythology collides with the modern world to reveal an intimate poetic universe." It was supposed to be a "group theatre event of intense, intimate revelations" where, through "blurring what is unspoken and spoken," there is "a triumphant vigor of spirit."
I found myself struggling to find these things within the play itself - the experience itself. The technicalities of the craft of the play didn't quite deliver on the excitement, the poetry, the promise of mixing mythology and the modern world that the description of the play left me craving for. But perhaps more upsetting is (what I see as) a confusion of what a triumphant spirit really is.
Alone in Triptych is exactly as its title suggests: three stories (three people) isolated, yet linked thematically. One woman has a boyfriend who is being hunted by the police for raping a teenage girl. Another woman has an abusive husband. And a man has kidnapped a little girl.
Again, these stories are linked thematically, and yet that theme I think comes across as not the one intended. The play is, obviously, about abuse - and so the perhaps intended theme is the struggle through isolation. The unfortunate oversight is what the prevailing theme becomes:
Boyfriends, Husbands, Fathers, Dads: Bad bad bad bad bad bad bad.
The set design takes up "triptych" from the title as its mantra, which could have been interesting if there had maybe been more intention behind the moving and collapsing of walls between scenes. And while I do not like to harp too much on execution of this sort (anyone working on a budget built from bottoms of bank accounts has my absolute sympathies), the accordion-ing of the walls left them, when stretched out, oddly misshapen, leaving me distracted. The lighting had similar (though less noticeable) oddities - with the occasional dramatic lighting shift mid scene, though there did not seem to be any dramatic shift.
I have little to say to the acting, because I feel the actors were working in a very limited setting - they had, in addition to an overly dramatic script, no scene partners, and could not connect to the audience, and were, it seemed, pushed into the world of the dramatic through the direction. The direction, then, seemed aimed at intensifying the heavy-handed script. This, however, didn't make the play more dramatic, but rather more difficult to believe and engage with.
Which leaves us with the play itself. Where the design rallied to "triptych," the script rallies behind "alone." These three characters remain linked only through theme - they live through their stories by themselves, talking to those in their world who are not present on stage (taking the idea of being alone and far too obviously literal). But this does something very interestingly (though hopefully unintentionally) thematic:
There is no dialogue.
"Obviously" you say, but I don't mean literally between characters, but rather ideologically about the subject matter. The play removes the possibility for conversation concerning rape and abuse, giving only a voice to those whom are victimized. And here is where I must be clear: these characters are victims, certainly, and a victim's voice must be heard. But these characters keep themselves in their position of being a victim, thus victimizing themselves. And so the ones that try to help, or better, the others not existent in this play who are victims who do triumph do not get a voice. And so what does this play then intend me to do other than feel "bad"?
And then the question is... why should I feel bad? Because of the man.
Again, I do not know or understand the intentions of this play - I can only know what I experienced. And every male character present in this play was an abuser, and every woman a victim. What am I left to feel but that this play is trying to shame me, the male? What am I left to feel but helpless? Why was I watching it?
But it is more than that: it appears the play wants to show these women (two of them, anyway) triumphing over their abusers (the men in their lives). But I cannot see their victories as victories - instead, one woman does nothing and yet is "released", while another chooses to become an abuser herself, though presented with the option of moving forward and helping to fix the problem.
So I'm stuck. What does this say?
I think - I think - the play is closing the door. I think it withholds other voices so that we may all wallow in misery with the victimized, so that we may feel bad, and be angry. But why? Why can't we talk about it?
Why indeed. Abuse is real. We need to be talking about it, and fighting against it.