This excruciating futuristic spoof satirizes contemporary fixations with the dangers of food, the environment, and sex by focusing on an everyman couple.
It is presented by the theatre company Adjusted Realists whose goal is to tell “theatrical stories about unhinged worlds.” What is unhinged is that Mr. Kaliski believed that this material as it is was worthy of a full-length two-act play with an intermission.
Set in the future following an apocalyptic event referred to as “The Correction,” we first meet the later masturbating married couple and a realtor all dressed in white space suits. These are worn outside as protection against environmental threats.
He is loquaciously showing them a gleaming antiseptic apartment in the high security Goldilocks, a fortress-like complex in which they take up residence. It is “…one of the first places in the neighborhood to be certified by the United Sensitivity Council. 100% particle-free. 100% plastic-free. 100% IKEA-free, as of this month. And verified by three independent agencies as 85% wave-free.”
We later meet Copious’ aggressive mother Linda and her younger enigmatic male companion Maple. He is a “divinity” with psychic life enhancing powers. They are part of a rebellious movement who have eschewed the rigidity of the stifling survivalist mentality of city dwellers and live naturally in the suburbs drinking coffee, engaging in traditional sex, and not worrying. Convincing the young couple to join them and be symbolic counterculture leaders is their goal. This and whether Hibiscus will become pregnant are the main plot points of the play.
The way Copious and Hibiscus speak is the way young people speak. The way Maple and Linda respond to this is the way older generations respond to anything new and uncomfortable about younger generations. The default spirit for the play is close to a “gee whiz” clip of 50s sitcom earnestness, with obvious exceptions. It’s especially important than Copious and Hibiscus steer clear of anything too contemplative or naturalistic early on. Author’s notes.
These stylistic concerns are adhered to and the dialogue is a grating compendium of inane buzzwords, sophomoric vulgarisms, and bad puns, peppered with topical references.
We ain’t got no coffee, you silly poop! The canteen is 100% vice free. The token hot beverage is made from roasted Maca root and bee pollen.
No real coffee in this hood, huh?
The Museum of Natural Hysteria has some, but it’s in a display case.
You’ve experimented with coffee?
Two cups a day.
Holy Mitch McConnell.
Ira Glass, John Slattery (as a shade of paint), Joe Biden, Jonathan Franzen, and John McCain are also tossed in. The first act is farcical and the second act is darker and it all doesn’t amount to much either as a comedy, a drama or a combination. It’s also painfully unfunny.
The direction by Kaliski and Amanda Holston efficiently moves the actors around, maintains a steady pace, and achieves a strident tone of performance that fulfills the material. In spite of the overdone script, it is at least watchable.
Jason Sherwood’s scenic design for the horizontal runway stage simply but very effectively recalls the look of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. The floor is composed of white and beige squares, there are white cabinets and walls with touches of black, and a few silvery accessories.
The accomplished lighting design by Jessica Greenberg crisply lends a futuristic dimension. Matt Sherwin’s sound design and music suitably conveys loudness and expressiveness. The comical but eerie space suits, black tights, swirling print patterns, and flowing blazers are among the inspired results of William Mellette’s witty costume design that vibrantly evoke a later time period.
A starry cast of comic titans of the likes of Nathan Lane and Kristin Chenoweth could very well have infused Gluten! with their great gifts energizing the deficient writing.
Here there is a company of talented and likeable actors struggling to give sincere characterizations. The graceful Jeremiah Maestas is charmingly animated as Copious. Shawna Cormier is zany and feisty as Hibiscus. Maggie Low’s marvelous subtlety does wonders for the role of Linda. With his near monotone delivery as Maple Roger Manix is compellingly quirky. Playing several characters, Josh Tobin is often in Robin Williams overdrive mode.
Gluten! is a half-baked attempt at the sort of sci-fi societal humor Woody Allen and co-screenwriter Marshall Brickman crafted so hilariously in the 1973 film Sleeper.
Gluten! (through December 5, 2015)
59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-279-4200 or visit http://www.59e59.org
Running time: two hour and 15 minutes including one intermission
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