PlayMakers Repertory Company is known for bringing innovative theatre to the Triangle area, especially via its PRC2 series. Now, it’s taking “innovative” to new heights with its current production, Bewilderness, a play written and directed by Zack Fine and on the stage for the first time ever.
This daring production is not afraid to break the fourth wall. In fact, it does so right from the start, figuratively and literally. The set features a small, barren cabin frame that is missing its fourth wall, a joke Zack Fine, who plays himself or a version of himself, alludes to throughout.
The play operates under the guise that Fine, through his writing of the play- this play- has managed to bring back a befuddled Henry David Thoreau (Geoffrey Culbertson). He also manages to bring back Ralph Waldo Emerson (David Adamson), their mother (Julia Gibson), and a host of other colorful characters, including a giant woodchuck (Jeffrey Blair Cornell).
As these crazy characters interact and talk about everything from Thoreau’s difficulties with writing to his eventual success and the loss of his dear brother (Dan Toot), there are lots of diversions and digressions. These include musical numbers from a trio of doctors, as well as remarks and criticism on the current state of society and of America in particular.
Throughout all this, the characters desperately want to know what the play’s about and what it all means. The answer regularly repeated is that “We don’t know yet.” And while it would be easy to think that the play itself has fallen into this trap, it seems that’s exactly what Fine wants to happen. He has created a “super meta” play that is much like Thoreau’s failed first work…but on purpose.
This is an oddly-strung together production that’s about failure and the fear of it, transcendentalism, change, and loss. It also purports itself as a eulogy. Who it’s a eulogy for, however, is undetermined. While Fine alludes to this in the production, it’s unclear if it’s for a person, for our nation, or perhaps even for our humanity. Perhaps it’s a little bit of all three.
While Fine’s message, through purposefully so, is a bit muddled, this production is definitely innovative and spirited. It elicits serious thought, which, at the end of the day, is what theatre, especially experimental theatre, is all about.