Cast of Evocation To Visible Appearance. Photo by Bill Brymer
Evocation to Visible Appearance
By Mark Schultz
Directed by Les Waters
Review by Ben Gierhart
Entire contents copyright © 2018 by Ben Gierhart. All rights reserved.
I like to consider myself someone with pretty eclectic taste in music. I enjoy the bubblegum escapism of pop music, the heartfelt storytelling techniques of good country, the unflinching social commentary and perspective of rap as well as the dismantling of established order brought about by rock music. Metal music takes rock into an extreme that has always been inaccessible to me, and black metal is certainly the most confrontational of its subgenres. I bring this all up to discuss not only how crucial the tenets of black metal are to the themes of this play but also how deliberately discomfiting these themes are.
Let me make one thing abundantly clear: This play will make you uncomfortable. It will challenge you. It will tackle what you think good theater is. It is a melange of nihilism, absurdist theater and, of course, black metal music. It also laughs at the attempt to classify it as anything because what’s the point? It disrupts any affectation of significance you may have attributed to anything in your life and it makes a mockery of hope and aspiration. It is not an uplifting play, and it’s not a school of thought most people, let alone most audiences, are equipped to handle well.
Samantha (Suzy Weller) and her father, Russell (Bruce McKenzie) begin the play in distress. The former announcing to her soon-to-be ex-boyfriend, Trevor (Lincoln Clauss) that she is pregnant and the latter desperately abasing himself to secure a job. Neither plea goes as planned. Samantha’s sister, Natalie (Ronete Levenson) regards her current and seemingly endless stay at a psychiatric facility with an air of prosaic indifference. Samantha’s boss, Martin (Daniel Arthur Johnson) truly cares and tries to inject some meaning into the world around him, even going so far as to meet with Russell. He’s depicted as a color-blind man who takes great care in color-coordinating his dress shirts and ties. Why work so hard for something almost no one notices, let alone appreciates?
When Samantha meets black metal musician Hudson (Luke F. LaMontagne), there’s a moment when it seems that love may sweep in and save Samantha from her fear of mankind’s as well as her own personal apocalypse. In another moment, in a scene that I won’t give away, all these hopes are dashed, and you’re left with the idea that perhaps we are all one illness or calamity away from doom, from becoming a shell of the person we are trying to be, from becoming nothing.
Everything about this play is carefully considered. In a group of strong actors, Weller and McKenzie give astounding performances – it’s a shame this play did not include a curtain call. Every element of design works in concert to create a stark wasteland where our hopes, dreams and secret wishes for ourselves are reduced to garbage onstage. The direction aids the dismantling of worlds – mental, emotional and, with more than a few instances of deliberately falling lights, even metatheatrical.
As considered as this play is, however, I have to wonder how successful it was on opening night and how successful it will be for the remainder of its run. It is the kind of challenging material that more theaters should be producing, but it is also unapologetically bleak and troubling. The audience around me seemed unfortunately unreceptive to it. Does this make it bad theater? I will say that I left the play feeling as though, for the first time, I was beginning to understand why some people appreciate, even revel, in metal music. It may or may not be good theater, but it is without question a play with great insight and revelation into the darkest abyss of fears we as a civilization prefer to leave untouched. That is, if you let it be.
Evocation to Visible Appearances
March 16 – April 8, 2018
Part of the 42nd Humana Festival of New American Plays
Actors Theatre of Louisville
316 West Main Street
Louisville, Kentucky 40202
Ben Gierhart is a local actor, playwright, and director who has worked with several companies in town including The Bard’s Town, Pandora Productions, Savage Rose, and Centerstage. Ben serves on the board and in the acting ensemble for The Bard’s Town Theatre, and he is also a founding member of the Derby City Playwrights, a collective dedicated to creating new and exciting plays in Louisville.