We all live by rules. Society is structural and Nature has its own immutable laws. Our lives are seemingly under the control of these laws. So whatever happened to free will and the free spirit? Where do we draw the line and rebel in our own ways at living under the iron boot of government and social pressure? These are the questions Ildiko Nemeth explores in her brilliant reworking of Charles L. Mee’s “The Rules” a play/text from his (re)making project. Beautifully hand lettered rules were flashed by an overhead projector on the staging area’s back wall. They warned of ‘faux pas’ in elite social circumstances. Women must behave in a way that doesn’t attract too much attention. Men must hold on to their strengths. Do not under any conditions be excessive or reveal any overly emotional thoughts or feelings. In other words be neutral, look very good, appear successful. Otherwise no one will want to know more about you.
“Rules” opens with the company ensemble in a wild text/dance asking these questions in a highly physical as well as accusatory way. Each actor is a representative of a class, race or gender preference. The players are recognizable not only as types and appearance but by the clichés of their obedience to rules. Their costumes create recognizable images with intense differences between them. The shock of beauty and nudity reminds us all is not surface covering. Underneath there are sensual pleasures and pains that must be grasped to be a whole human. Character actress Gloria Miguel sits just off center stage wearing a traditional ethnic native first people’s costume from an unnamed tribe. She invokes the beauty of native culture but also the difficulty of coexistence with colonizers and even
worse the pressures of modern life. Her monologue referencing Vine Deloria’s “Custer Died For Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto” held me in suspense. I wondered what she would do
to the young moderns in the center stage. She was quietly waiting for the opportunity to either join them or demolish their vapid dreams. We would wait with her as we anxiously await the Other’s rebellion against our imposed rules.
Nemeth’s adaption of Ralph Ellison’s “The Invisible Man “ as delivered by actor Tom Martin is a completely moving engrossing moment of monologue theater. I’ve heard it all before, it’s the ‘complaint’ but when
Martin speaks with the deep good looks and bass voice of Paul Robson I was mesmerized. For me it was the high point. Yes it was a little over the top. But that’s what’s needed to make a point in a play with so many competing ideas. There are a dozen vignettes with talented young actors displaying anxiety, depression, fortitude in the face of modern confusion. All played in Nemeth’s keynote style. I recommend a visit soon. You’ll come away with questions and answers clothing you in an entertaining style: Downtown Moves Uptown.
Innovative Theatre Awards 2017: Outstanding Performance Art Production (nomination)