THE ADULTS (New Paradise Laboratories): Fringe Review 20

“Cold, cold, cold. Empty, empty, empty.”

Such is the mood of New Paradise Laboratories’ THE ADULTS, a conceptual performance piece, conceived and directed by Whit MacLaughlin, in this year’s Presented Fringe. Informed by the themes of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, the experimental music of Lionel Marchetti, and the images of Eric Fischl’s nude and semi-nude beach and pool paintings (the round blue children’s pools in the venue’s lobby are derived from his 1979 canvas Sleepwalker), the ensemble-devised work evokes the boredom and bad behavior of a privileged vacationing family of film artists and their guests through minimal, absurd dialogue and highly stylized, disjointed movement. The characters fill their seemingly interminable leisure time at a lake, and elude fulfillment in their vacuous lives, with self-indulgent drinking, sex, egotistical displays of their bodies, and inter-personal cruelty, as they come together in the same space but remain psychologically distant from one another. We get the distinct impression, through the Chekhovian device of a play-within-the-play, that their decadent conduct is not limited to vacation, but will continue till the ultimate extinction of the human race, when the planet is reclaimed by the forces of nature.

New Paradise Laboratories The Adults Fringe

Photo by plate3photography.

The artistic design is first-rate, with the production’s chilling tone of a doomed humanity reinforced by Thom Weaver’s stark lighting, Bhob Rainey’s jarring sound and music (underscoring long periods of silence), Rosemarie McKelvey’s revealing costumes, and Matt Saunders’ sleek white post-modern set (as if we were inside the home in the background of Fischl’s 1982 Barbeque), and his video projections of the lake’s calm then turbulent waters—all presided over by the taxidermy specimen of a ferocious rearing bear, and the enigmatic Wiszie (played by Saunders), an odd and repulsive resident of the lake.

The cast of NPL regulars—Matteo Scammell, Kevin Meehan, Emilie Krause, Julia Frey, Jeb Kreager, and Saunders—along with Kate Czajkowski in her company debut, capture the strange dysfunction, ennui, and bleakness inherent in this dismal view of society, with occasional and unexpected touches of sardonic humor. A case in point: Alex–a young writer (portrayed by Scammell) who lives at the lake and writes the script performed by the aspiring actress Mia (Krause)—reveals of himself, and, by extension, the others: “I justify my lack of initiative by pretending to be an artist.” Like much of conceptual art, THE ADULTS is disturbing and challenging to watch, but it’s great to reflect upon afterwards. [Painted Bride Art Center, 230 Vine Street] September 3-14, 2014; fringearts.com/the-adults.

Check out Kathryn Osenlund’s review here.

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About the author

Debra Miller

Debra holds a PhD in Art History from the University of Delaware and teaches at Rowan University, Glassboro, NJ. She is a judge for the Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre, Philadelphia Arts and Culture Correspondent for Central Voice, and has served as a Commonwealth Speaker for the Pennsylvania Humanities Council and President of the Board of Directors of Da Vinci Art Alliance. Her publications include articles, books, and catalogues on Renaissance, Baroque, American, Pre-Columbian, and Contemporary Art, and feature articles on the Philadelphia theater scene.