Thomas Piper and Adam Smith. Photo by Ed Krieger

‘Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally Review’ @ Odyssey Theatre Ensemble

September 21, 2017

Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally playing at the Odyssey Theatre is yet another challenging contemporary play with its extreme abstraction of narrative. And the abstraction of the story, rather than physically acted out, is not a gimmick nor is it a necessary evil to bring to life a small-budget play that can only do so with minimalist story-telling (by contrast the original New York performance had a six person ensemble). Instead, it is a very creative ploy made possible by the story itself.


We as the audience, more or less, are invited into the stream-of-consciousness of a smart phone. To make the phone anything more concrete on stage, such as with costume, would not hold the audience in a seriously intelligent manner. Instead, with the narrative maintaining a cerebral form, we lay witness to virtually an uninterrupted 70 minutes of ardent loquaciousness, which itself is an acting marvel to behold by the lead Thomas Piper. This is no easy script for an actor to master, and it is commendable and worthy to see the performance itself for this very feat.


Also, positively original is the art direction on stage. Fitting the motif of the play are several large digital screens in Tron-esque blue with streams of binary which splash in response to certain moments in the play. I think these screens could have played a more intimate role in the script by being more interwoven with key points in the plot; to provide more timely colorful hues and verves of emotion helping accentuate but most importantly continuously direct and impregnate the audience with the appropriate experience of the artistry. It would have required an even more arduous amount of stage direction to unfold, and perhaps it is an unreasonable request, but it would have helped tremendously in keeping the audience apace with the story line and mercurial smart phone raconteur.


With the introduction of the plot being told from the perspective of a smart phone, one might presume this is an absurdist play. That its reality is farcical. This is far from the case, though the script does gratefully allow the smart phone anthropic, comically absurd emotions to provide some lightness to an otherwise serious story.


This phone witnesses, uncloaked from human perceptions and its occlusions, the rawness of a small intertwined group of people, connected by the relationship between a teacher and her student. What begins is the confiscation of the phone and which turns to stirring emotions of infatuation between the two. This is mainly promulgated by the teacher who is dulled by her complacent lifestyle.


But why is it dull? We are not given a direct sense of animosity towards her rudderless quote partner and his wildly ambitious dreams of glory with his smart phone app development which glosses over his unemployment status. There is no witnessing of any real financial anxieties with the couple, no sense of giving the audience a rationale to the teacher’s escalation of a practically professional relationship with a student to something quite fonder. It would have been beneficial of the play to tie in the staleness from the abduction of real analog human life with the digital representation of it and her own petty stretch toward attaining a feeling of being alive via reckless dramatics. There were no doubt copious instances to do so in the play, and in turn this would indict the phone, the nexus of the drama, as an accessory to the crime.


Yet what crime is being committed? Lust caused by a sheer boredom with living? No, it is a disregard for the natural over the enslavement to the artificial world, akin to being shackled within The Matrix. Indeed, the infatuation by the teacher is inseminated by her wonder of Red, her student, through his smart phone autobiography. This curiosity perhaps causes an insatiable lust which deforms into something potentially hazardous for not simply her career, but her life. From this posture, it is an interesting reverberation of the countless real-life stories of female teacher dalliances with their students.


But it returns us to some meditation on the banalities of everyday life. Her partner is lightly mocked by the smart phone expert witness, but he is filling his time with dreaming at the least. And is this not one of the fundamental necessities to being a complete human being? To strive toward some higher end? Of course, there is the issue of actually executing his dreaming, but regardless, why is he ostensibly treated so lowly by the phone when he is living toward something greater than himself?


The play, though, is cordial in its judgment of each of the characters. There is no strong pull toward a rightness or wrongness with the drama, making this a very genuine story. The phone acts with objectivity in its observations, though this itself raises the question on how would a smart phone think if allowed to: would it be this plucky when commenting upon a sorry state of human affairs? Would it be this omniscient yet kind in understanding the entanglements humanity cannot help but weave for themselves? Would it ever wonder at the difficulty of possessing free will? Or is it grateful it is not human? Doubt never touches its lips; without which is an absolution of the uncertainty of what to be – arguably the genesis to this entire play beneath the canopy of human emotion…indeed beneath all human drama.


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