A wonderful, deadpan subversive souffle of a play. Set in a NY hospital in which the nervous middle aged and un-talkative Wyatt is newly arrived in a private room where the gregarious Budge is already installed . Wave upon wave of unexpected visitors from elsewhere in the institution – supposedly doctors, seriously ill patients - turn out to be wave after wave of ‘performing’ or delusional mental patients from the adjacent psychiatric wing. All this gradually seems to undermine the sense of security – even the sense of underlying reality - of Budge and Wyatt, if indeed Budge and Wyatt are Budge and Wyatt. All bets are slowly called off. Act two reveals the engine room of the vertiginous deception. Actors playing lunatics, lunatics playing actors, or lunatics playing actors playing lunatics? A play that forensically disassembles apparent reality to reveal acting and its cognate performance form, madness, underneath. This is an intricately conceived/achieved, apparently absurdist play with a gradually-revealed swiss-watch realist mechanism driving the apparent quantum warpedness. Also full of vivid and wry characters, and of such characters playing such characters. And for the early 80s it manages to be wonderfully evocative of millennial immersive and situationist theatre which it cheerfully seems to predict, while also accurately anatomising a 21st Century type of jet-set theatre-festival-groupie determined to track down the latest elusive hot ticket. DeLillo is more than a great novelist – on the basis of this and of his later play we read in Holborn last year – Valporiso – he is also a major playwright. As with the novels, this play both celebrate and subverts the simulacra of modern life. The dialogue has a wonderful deadpan relish. Both a serious play and a wonderful confection. Its ultimate ‘trick’ of deadpan serial and multiple un-maskings, in which each subsequent layer is presented as reality only to be then revealed as just another performance, is reminiscent both in tone and technique of noting so much as late-stage Ben Johnson, in his The New End for example…and there was a theatre craftsman if ever there was one. In terms of the theatricality and role playing you could also mention Pirandello of course. A great discovery, and read here with aplomb
So it looks like an absurdist play until you work out the intricacies of the situational mechanism. And it ultimately offers the satisfaction of it all fitting together - a bit like Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday, where everyone in the anarchist cell turns out to be a 'plant' so the spies are all from the same side and basically spying on each other - but with the Delillo they are all psychiatric patients . The 'mark' Wyatt turns out to be the maddest of them all, giving in Act 2 his 'performance' as the Robin Williams-esque tv. A single nurse, who sneaks in to 'moonlight' in the theatricals in the psychiatric patients' day room, is a genuine refugee from the supposedly 'sane' clinical world. The guy who seems unexpectedly spooked at the end of Act 1 - Budge (so you think that spookedness is/must be a 'real' moment) - turns out to be Arno himself...or has taken that name (the honorary 'name' of the psychiatric ward, or the titular head of the theatre company...or both, or neither...) I suspect a performance would work with a kind of slightly ritualised, on-rails deadpan delivery, slightly farce-like...(with Wyatt as the Gene wilder character from The Producers and Budge/Arno as Zero Mostel.....): it's clearly not the first night of the Arno Klein after-dark production in and beyond the dayroom - they are a well-oiled machine, both in their doctors and nurses schtick from Act 1 and their 'grifters' turn in Act 2. I think they do it nightly....it's a narcissist obsessive/compulsive thing....after all, in Act 2 they are fantasising their own elusive 'must see' celebrity status as the Arno Klein troupe....pursued around the world....
A great discovery, and read here with aplomb
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