The poster for Swerve, R.J. Tsarov's latest play, shows a street at night. The only discernible object is a sign on a telephone pole which says "EGOPO Productions." Chalk one up for truth in advertising.
EgoPo Productions was founded in 1991 by Artistic Director Lane Savadove and, according to the playbill, has had some stunning successes in places as far flung as New York, San Francisco, Indonesia and Croatia. Given Savadove's long-standing interest in experimental work, it's not surprising he should have been attracted to Tsarov.
Savadove has thrown considerable energy, expertise and hard cash into giving this premiere of Swerve what he calls "event-status." He probably got more "event" than he bargained for -- as anyone with their ear to the ground in the theater world or on Tsarov's email list can attest.
Until now, Tsarov has made a point of directing his own work. Now, the pendulum has swung to the other extreme. The EgoPo Swerve is not Tsarov's vision enhanced by a more expert directorial touch. It is Tsarov's text used as the raw material for Savadove's vision. It is, in a sense, Tsarov deconstructed. Since Tsarov creates a rich texture of recurring symbols, his plays seem like a natural for freeform elaborations. On the other hand, when you start deconstructing that which is already nonlinear, things can get pretty vague.
Be that as it may, Savadove has a great sense of showmanship -- though that's not the term one usually applies to the "now" version of the impresario's ancient art. When the audience enters a warehouse back room of the TwiRoPa Mills Arts & Entertainment space on Tchoupitoulas Street, everyone is given a surgical gown (I don mine with as good graces as I can manage, since I hate that sort of thing). Then we take our seats on an improvised gallery to gaze upon a fascinating and disquieting tableaux: a white tile floor, linen sheets strung like curtains (as in a carnival show or a hospital room), vast banks of video monitors showing static, and two hospital beds.
"M" (Bill Dykes) sits on a bed, taking his temperature. He is using a wind-up timer (this prop, like everything else in the play, reincarnates later). In an area off to one side, naked to the waist and with his back to us, sits Hobz (Chip Steltz). He speaks into a mini recorder. We hear his amplified voice endlessly repeating a weird mantra: "A man is trying to assassinate me, a man pretending to be me. My voice doesn't even sound like this."
Victory (Robert Pavlovich) joins "M" and, as he spoons what looks like apple sauce from a throwaway package, he rhapsodizes about the delicious steak he's eating. At the end of the scene, when he calls for the waiter, we realize he is not being ironic about hospital food: the text and the staging are happening on different levels. Curtains open to reveal other bizarre happenings. A good-looking blonde named Gina (Leah Lofton) appears in a Plexiglas booth, complaining bitterly about going bald. A good-looking brunette named Holly (Veronica Russell) reclines -- fully, if provocatively, clothed -- in a blue bathtub. She wears earphones and is listening to Hobz's mantra, which she refers to as a "motivational tape."
The situation seems to be this: Victory and M need to provide Hobz (who is a fence for stolen diamonds) with a female hostage until Hobz decides they've given him good value for his money. However, it's also possible that Gina is not a hostess/exotic dancer, but a nurse, and that Hobz is a catatonic patient of hers. Victory visits her while she is on duty, in order to have sex with her.
Then, there is the question of what gets run over by the car that Victory, M and Holly are driving in. Is it a child or a possum? And, while we're at it, does Holly really get stabbed in the stomach by a pair of scissors at the scene of the accident? And if so, why? Other unresolved questions have to do with the videos. Possibly, they are sadistic porn made by the evil, hirsute Hobz. (On the monitors, we actually see a woman's legs being torn by a hole punch -- as well as scenes from Bambi, underwater landscapes and clips from a Bogart film.) Or are the videos actually innocuous distractions Victory brings to Hobz in his asylum room. None of these conundrums are made easier to resolve by an accelerating dreamlike doubling and interchanging of the characters themselves.
Clearly, a great deal of writing and directing and acting talent went into the creation of this elaborate phantasmagoria. There is much to relish in the text, in the staging and in the performances. But there's a point at which vagueness ceases to suggest deeper mysteries and begins bear a perilous resemblance to plain, old-fashioned confusion.
- Holly (Veronica Russell) and Victory (Robert Pavlovich) heat things up in R.J. Tsarov's latest work, Swerve, at TwiRoPa Mills.