by Cheryl King · November 2, 2014
Trevor Kluckman & Katie Fissore | Christopher Ash
I suppose when an author self-identifies as a Marxist Public Intellectual we should be prepared for some strange choices when he writes a play.
And there were strange choices abounding in Buzz, in the production now taking place in “Tom and Sasha’s loft” in Brooklyn. For instance, we were given no reason whatsoever for the actors to be performing in their underwear. But in the script provided by producer Lanie Zipoy, it’s right there in the author’s notes, so the director Lian Walden, who did make some other very effective choices, did as Mr. Kunkel requested. The actors, Katie Fissore, Trevor Kluckman, Jeri Silverman, Gianmarco Soresi and Natalie Walker, behaved as though wearing only underwear for dinner, for visiting friends, for a student interview of a playwright, were totally normal. And they did it with aplomb.
The annoying flies, whose existence so obsesses our main character, must stand in for something-perhaps global warming? I had to know more than the play provided me, so I did a little research on Benjamin Kunkel, in this article - How Benjamin Kunkel Went From Novelist to Marxist Public Intellectual by David Wallace-Wells,
David Wallace-Wells is an excellent journalist, presenting Mr. Kunkel’s views on commonism – not to be confused with communism. He tells us that Kunkel considers “the exploitation of the planet as the pressing sin of capitalism and that he offers a perfect alarmist logic: Global warming and globalization become natural limits to growth, and the ever-increasing financialization of our economy is something like a panicked effort to engineer profits anyway.”
I think those thought processes probably produced the dialogue in the dinner scene, by far the most compelling part of the play – with Melanie (played by Natalie Walker, who had excellent comic timing) providing a fine inane counterpoint to her date Tom’s financial gobbledygook, of which this is a representative sampling- “But in this city-state or regional area I would say the industry has matured. Not where I’d look for metastasizing growth. And now maybe conventional wisdom would have it that pest control, with us here, is at least going to hold its own, right?”
As Tom is talking about pest control and the financialization of it, the actors quite believably ate imaginary food from real plates, and drank imaginary wine from real glasses, as they killed imaginary flies and wiped them on their real underwear. You have to give them credit for their convincing portrayal of a totally unreal situation. There’s also a “Men in Black” moment at the end that is a bit of a shock, partly because the supporting actors reappear in clothing. That scene sparked things up a bit, but not enough to pull us from the weird limbo produced by the strangeness of our situation.
I wanted to see this play partly because it was strange, and because of the setting, as we, the audience, were seated in the performing space with the actors, on quite comfy sofas. I expected our proximity to them was set up by the director so that we could experience some intimacy, some connection – but except for one moment, when Sasha, ably played by Jeri Silverman, gives a silk flower to an audience member, there is no connection at all. We could have been paper dolls arranged around the room. And that’s an odd thing – to watch people in their underwear, two feet away, speaking directly to the audience, and to feel no connection to them. I think Kunkel’s intellectual intentions may have caused him to skip entirely the fleshing out of the characters, thereby providing us no means of identifying with them, or caring about their dilemma. Those pesky flies are NOT real, and the irritation the characters feel is not real either. If only one of those flies had drawn a little blood, or the playwright had, we might have felt a kinship with the players.
I read the entirety of David Wallace-Wells article about Benjamin Kunkel, trying to figure out what he had in mind when he wrote this play. Wallace-Wells says Kunkel has written poetry (quotes are Kunkel’s) “best shielded from the light of day”; part of a novel, “a sad work”; and a play about a world infested with flies and a couple trying to fumigate their apartment, “which sounds like the worst French existentialist play of all time,” he says, laughing.
I think the author says it best.