Field of Mars is an avant-garde play written and directed by Richard Maxwell and is presented by his company of actors, New York City Players. It is part of The Public Theater’s “Under the Radar Festival.” The two long acts take place primarily inside a restaurant in Chapel Hill, N.C., with some scenes that may or may not be in the restaurant.
The set by Sascha van Riel has the feel of an unfinished work, with minimal props and an amateurish feel. His lighting does help in moving the story along, but the play itself doesn’t rise above the blandness of the set. The eleven actors, most of whom are seasoned performers, give an almost affectless reading of the script as if they are working with no direction and no understanding of the characters or the intent of the play. The cast made up of Lakpa Bhutia, Nicholas Elliott, Jim Fletcher, Brian Mendes, James Moore, Philip Moore, Steven Thompson, Tory Vazquez and Gilian Walsh is not credited with any of the roles in the play in the program.
Act I begins with a narrator taking the audience through the first moments of Biblical creation with an extended description of how color was defined when light first entered the moment of creation. We are told the chemical makeup of the types of color pigments artist use, which is very different from the colors that make up the real world of color.
As the narrator completes the opening commentary, two figures enter the scene, and after a few moments, it becomes clear that it is a god figure and his creation. This is Adam, and after he falls into a deep sleep, the god figure removes a rib and leaves the stage. After a few moments, a woman enters as Eve. As Adam and Eve interact in a ritual of discovery, they walk off into the darkness at the edge of the set.
The action now shifts to the restaurant. First, two employees carry on a conversation of no particular consequence as they prepare the store for the day’s business. Then, two men enter and begin discussing rock music. Next, two younger men enter and join in the rock music discussion. The older two try to interest the younger men in using their songs. The dialogue turns into a listing of all types of rock bands, from the classical 60’s and 70’s to punk rock bands of the 80’ and 90’s. At some point during the conversation, two workers leave the restaurant and go for a walk while talking about a rock cover band that one of them is in.
It is unclear what the playwright is trying to say in Act 1 with these interactions. The action moves from creation in the Biblical view to creation in the artistic sense without a precise evocation of what end these actions are trying to accomplish.
Things do not get much clearer in Act 2, where the action moves from worms becoming sentient beings to couples acting out primitive psychosexual behaviors and being cannibalistic. Finally, the action ends up back in the restaurant with a rock band in the background playing the same phrases over and over while the workers endlessly repeat the same actions walking around the restaurant.
Field of Mars (January 19 – 29, 2023)
The Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival
New York City Players
Jack H. Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, 566 LaGuardia Place, Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-998-4941 or visit http://www.tickets.nyu.edu/mars/jan26
Running time: two hours and 30 minutes including one intermission.