Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by Barry Pineo, Fri., June 13, 2003
tempOdyssey: The Long Voyage Home
The Off Center, through June 28
Running Time: 2 hrs, 15 min
First, the good news: Dan Dietz has written an amazing play. Following a temporary office worker named Genny through her first and only day in a new office, Dietz jumps back and forth in time and from one coast (Atlanta) to another (Seattle -- the anti-Atlanta), touching on themes of work, family, the virtual reality of the Internet, and our relationships to death, time, and the market economy. (I used to think that all plays were about sex and death -- thanks to Dietz, I now think all plays are about sex, death, and work.) One of Dietz's concerns seems to be the way we use language both to explicate and evade. His characters often speak in alliterative, frighteningly beautiful, poetic dialogue and then, suddenly, switch to monosyllabic one-liners that sting with comic perception.
More good news: Director Jason Neulander has an amazingly talented cast for this world premiere. Joey Hood's first act as Jim, a permanent male temp, is so relaxed and natural, it looks more like life than acting; Lowell Bartholomee, while barely moving a muscle, elicits raucous laughter as a scientist explaining black holes; Shannon Grounds matches Bartholomee in the role of a temp guru; and Douglas Taylor gives the most controlled, disciplined, specific performance I've seen him deliver as Genny's Deep South chicken-farmer father. Neulander gets some fine work from his designers as well, particularly from set designer Chase Staggs, who constructs a clever and oppressive office building from little more than filing cabinets and an elevator.
Here's the bad news: By the time it ended, I was relieved, and so, it seemed, was the majority of the opening-night audience. Through much of the first act, everyone laughed heartily, and during Taylor's tour de force scene, which began the second act, everyone was absolutely still -- riveted. But you know an audience wants to get out of a theatre if they begin to stare at the floor, the ceiling, one another, anywhere but the stage, or if they stretch and rub their necks and constantly shift in their seats, as this audience did for at least the last 40 minutes of the play.
For a long time now, Salvage Vanguard Theater's rallying cry has been "I hate theatre." This statement, of course, is filled with pretension, implying that all theatre (all theatre that isn't my theatre) isn't any good. If this is your motto, you had best do something new and challenging with every production. With tempOdyssey, Dietz is doing something new and challenging, but that doesn't necessarily mean Salvage Vanguard is. Most of the second act is interminable. It's possible that this is a fault of Dietz's writing, but given much of the rest of the play, I don't think that's it. I think the second act is interminable because most of it is just so damn slow, and that's on director Neulander. I hate theatre, too, especially when actors drop every cue in a scene, do little for extended periods except shout, yell, and scream dialogue, go so fast that I can't understand what they're saying, or go so slow that I want to do nothing but go home and go to bed. While I admired tempOdyssey for its aspirations, I was glad when the voyage was over.