Sitting subtly in the bottom-left corner of CELLOPHANE’s program is a quote from the play’s Obie-winning playwright, Mac Wellman, stating, “I like to think of CELLOPHANE… as a spectral portrait and chronicle of America through the medium of bad language.” The warped—yet ghoulishly resonant—reality that Wellman creates is brought to life by Philadelphia’s own jenny&john, a dynamic creative duo that uses strong visual components to foster a sense of play, much the way Wellman does in his use of language. These whacky (yet poetic), distinct (yet symbiotic) elements of the play combine to create an experience that keeps its viewers on their toes and, as director Jenny Kessler herself explains, questioning the stability of language and constantly thinking, “I am a person watching play. These are people saying these words.” The play’s actors indeed say such words with astonishing conviction, despite the often nonsensical nature of what they are saying.
CELLOPHANE opens with six nameless characters, shuffling messily around a messy room. The characters are initially voiceless, as well, until finally they seat themselves in a circle and begin to debate something unintelligible to the viewer. With phrases like “Say them potatoes been longtime round say/ At cat,” the initial disjunction between viewer and dialogue grips you, and forces you to consciously consider yourself as a viewer of theater. You are, at once, an outsider to the discourse, and yet uniquely part of the experience. As the play continues, we follow the evolution of discourse itself, particularly political discourse, and the way it becomes warped alongside the evolution of media platforms. CELLOPHANE begins with simple face-to-face communication, and culminates with the advent of the Internet. Thanks to visuals from John Bezark, we are literally brought face-to-face with the vast Digital Age to consider the implications it has on our cultural conversation—for better or worse.
[The Boy Scouts’ Room at JUNK, 2040 Christian Street] September 9-12, 2016; fringearts.com/cellophane.