August 11, 2011
The Rogue in Mix Studio Theatre, New Theatre Project, Reviews, new/original plays

The New Theatre Project celebrates its big move from Ann Arbor to downtown Ypsilanti with the world premiere of Posing, written by resident playwright Jason Sebacher and directed and designed by artistic director Keith Paul Medelis. The cozy, craftily appointed Mix Studio space is accessible to patrons through the chic Mix boutique, acting both as landlord and as eager patron of the arts. Although the zip code has changed, the company’s ethos is well intact, as evidenced by this intimate production about the desirability and the price of lifelong youth.

The setting is a slovenly, condom- and clothing-strewn hovel, utterly anonymous but for one curious piece of décor. The two men inhabiting the room are at first just as anonymous, both to the viewer and to each other. That they had a sexual encounter the night before is likely; that they smoked and swallowed a lot of drugs is even more certain. The play’s eighty minutes find the pair in a kind of limbo that seems to last for days, during which they engage in deliberately obtuse and seemingly mundane conversation about where they’ve been, who they’re avoiding, and whether and how soon they’d better get some more drugs. They do get high again, their trips hypnotically, languidly staged with movement by Brian Carbine; they have more sex, the performers generally appearing in a state of undress and briefly stripping completely nude (warranting an 18-and-over door policy). But when the room’s resident (Evan Mann) seems to lose himself and call his companion (Ben Stange) by another name, this ultimate lost weekend finds its traction, snapping much of the wayward dialogue into clearer perspective. The story hinges on a literary device that viewers may or may not pick up on, but the details of the plot are less important — and less impressive — than the captivating issues raised by the playwright’s inventive hypothesis.

The viewer meets Stange’s visitor character first, and his more forthcoming nature makes him the play’s de facto protagonist. At times hardened and pushing away some outside responsibility, at others open as a child, Stange’s performance recalls a man on unequal footing in this tenuous encounter, dazzled by his vibrant partner and quite possibly seeking to be wounded. In addressing his formative years, the character stirs up the core duality of the play: a grown-up adult, longing for the irresponsibility of youth, seeking refuge in a young man in his prime who disdains and perhaps fears the complacency of age. Stange’s indecision reveals a dynamic character arc disguised as weakness, resigning himself to leave this existence and faltering just as many times.

Mann, inhabiting the more static role, is nevertheless more dominant in the relationship: his home, his dealer, his secrets, his rules. The actor assumes control of the conversation with shocking ease, seeming to feed off the personal confessions he draws out of his companion, even as he burrows further into inscrutability. At the same time Mann’s performance makes this man irresistably mysterious, he uses the text to demonstrate how selfishly terrible desirable people can get. When the character begins to reveal things about himself, the mystery — and, by extension, the electricity — is diminished, and the script leads up to a conclusion that plays like a fairy-tale moral and just as quickly abandoned, but ultimately it is in service of a premise fruitful enough to forgive some clumsy cards-on-the-table reveals.

Youth and its attendant attitudes are prized precisely because they cannot be sustained; eventually, they sprint on ahead and we settle for some other semblance of life. Posing uses a bold conceit to ask what might happen if we were to tamper with that inevitability, and this production successfully dabbles with these themes as the undercurrent of a private struggle. Although the final reality of this world can’t rival the intrigue of the ambiguity preceding it, the characters’ absorbing development holds up to scrutiny, and the play’s central question remains worthy of analysis on its own merits.

Posing is no longer playing.
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Article originally appeared on The Rogue Critic (http://www.roguecritic.com/).
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