Memphis Flyer, October 5 - 11, 2000

Unusual performances tease, taunt, tickle, and terrify.


Sometimes getting older does mean getting better. Our Own Voice Theatre Company, an independent group dedicated to exploring the many possibilities and permutations of performance as well as providing a platform for artists diagnosed with various mental illnesses, is celebrating an unlikely 10 years of inspiration, originality, and obscurity. They commemorate their first decade with Ephemera, a dandy deconstruction of a play that doesn't exist. As the title implies, OOV's brilliantly bizarre anniversary show focuses on the mysterious "here today, gone tomorrow" nature of the performance beast. It explores the meanings of "character" the relationship between "character" and "actor," and ultimately bridges the great divide between performer and spectator. If this sounds terribly academic, well it is. It is also boldly satiric and extremely entertaining.

Before proceeding, a warning and a recommendation are both in order. While I can only hope that every man, woman, and child with a sincere interest in theater, its meaning and its function within a given community, will pour through the doors of TheatreWorks to see Ephemera, there are some who just won't like it. Here's a test: If you loved Phantom of the Opera you will no doubt become confused, angry, or bored, if not all three at once. You might combust. I dare say that even top-drawer, mainstage-type actors will grow furious noting that many choice roles are filled by (extraordinary) children and (surprisingly good) rank amateurs. This was your fair warning. On the other hand, anyone who has ever believed that performance might be about more than just pretending to be someone else, anyone who has ever wished to mine the true strengths of the ephemeral art will be both amused and enlightened. Theater professors should offer extra credit to students who choose to attend this show.

In the dim preset, before the play "begins," two spectators begin to discuss why they have come to see Ephemera. Actually, more than two spectators are, engaged in this particular conversation, but only two of the spectators are, by the strict definitions of traditional theater, "performers." This polite conversation is by and large ignored at first, but gradually audience focus shifts in the "audience's" direction, and the performance begins. While we the true audience members have come to see a play called Ephemera, the "audience" has come to see a play called Monument. This theatrical device (with its built-in footnote crediting Tom Stoppard) sucks the audience right through the looking glass and into a bizarre land where nature may only be understood in reverse.

A brief book report: Monument begins with "Strike," which is theatrical jargon for tearing down a set after a show has completed its run. The action moves from strike to performance and from performance to rehearsal. The curtain call is transformed: It is the director announcing the names of the actors he has chosen to be in his play. At Ephemera/Monument's end/beginning the entire audience is invited to audition. Got it? I thought not. After all, summarizing the plot of Ephemera (or its doppelganger Monument) is like explaining what soup is by describing an aluminum can.

The various conventions raise issues which are then debated by the "audience" who function as one of Ephemera's two comic choruses. The second chorus, a pair of clowns representing "characters," discuss their raison d'etre as irreverent homage is steadily paid to Beckett, Brecht, Brook, Pirandello, Genet, Grotowski, Boal, and Artaud: the greatest theatrical innovators of the 20th century.

Now that everyone is thoroughly confused, allow me to conclude with a few simple statements. If the Memphis theater community cannot see itself reflected in Ephemera, then that community is blind. If they cannot hear the challenge that Ephemera presents, then they are deaf. If they refuse to accept that challenge, then they are certainly dull and must once and for all stop living under the illusion that they are artists.

Ephemera is at TheatreWorks through October 7th and then it's gone.