Linas Phillips at OtB Jan 16, 2009
I just saw Linas Phillip's Lasagna or: How I learned to stop slipping towards the prison of permanent darkness at On the Boards tonight. The piece, which was written by film maker and Stranger Genius Award recipient Phillips and his co-star, New York actor Jim Fletcher, is as intelligent and moving exploration of contemporary male angst as one could expect to see on the stage or at the local movie theater.
In describing its subject matter and its various manifestations, I understand that I run the risk of making Lasagna sound either like a tired, pretentious play or a forgettable low-brow movie. But the piece is so well-written and skillfully performed, it manages to subsume and transform the former genre by embracing the vernacular and occasional honesty of the latter. As we launch into a discourse on the author Whitley Strieber's encounter with possible alien in his hotel suite, we are soon side-tracked by a series of conversations on the nature of love, destiny, free will, and permanence. These dialogues focus upon fear, regret, psychic paralysis, masturbation, pornography, and our obsession with memory.
The scenes, which use numerous monitor screens, cables, iPods, and ear phones to create spatial and temporal distances, are riveting. A glowing Phillips talks to Fletcher about his burgeoning romance and Fletcher responds by giving his friend a warm account of what it was like falling in love with his wife. Suddenly, Fletcher's now ex-wife interrupts this conversation. As Phillips is put on hold, a testy conversation ensues about their daughter's upcoming quiz and her preparedness for it, injecting a powerful dose of irony into the situation. Later, Phillips is seen scrolling through a series of photographs he's taken of his romantic encounter on his phone while Fletcher talks to his wife about their daughter's well-being.
The third character in the performance, is Phillips' child-like, gravely-voiced alter-ego (perhaps "id" would be the more fitting term) Rinas, who appears on the monitor to remind us of his propensity to masturbate, thereby grinding the discussion of higher things to a sudden halt. He is played virtually by Phillips, but physically by dancer/choreographer Leah Schrager.
What makes the whole thing work, of course, is a masterful modulation of tone. Lasagna never becomes maudlin, romanticized, embittered, or stupid.
At the end of the piece, Phillips and Fletcher read long passages from Strieber's book. In light of what we have been observing, the passages about isolation, transcendence, and the attainment of "ecstasy" suddenly become metaphors for the pursuit of happiness and fulfillment in love and relationships. The detached, metaphysical language makes it sound strangely like Plato on the same subject.
Lasagna runs through Sunday the 18th, after which time Phillips leaves us for New York.
[Cross-posted @ ArtDish]