PW’s ‘Pleasure Dome’ a trip by TV

By
Friday, February 6, 2009

Most people have sat down on the couch, turned on the television and flipped through as many channels as the TV has to offer in an endless cycle of entertainment options. What awaits the viewer is anything imaginable – front-row seats at a sports game, outer space, sharks or the latest celebrity scandal. When channel surfing, really anything is possible.

That is the same feeling one gets while watching “Pleasure Dome,” a play “devised and written” by Hillary Dixler ’08, David Harrington ‘08.5 and Andrew Starner GS, and directed by Harrington and Starner. The play, or “paratheatrical production” as the creators call it, is presented by what they call System of a Meaning, a group developed by Starner and Harrington, and produced through Production Workshop.

With no narrative continuity and no consistent characters, the production, running around ninety minutes, is composed of many short scenes set both inside and outside a giant television screen. The show includes a quirky mix of performance art and soap opera-style scenes, like pseudo-advertisements for a beach vacation and a newscast about the Vietnam War to someone pretending to eat a pile of video tape.

Abby Schreiber ’11, who acts in the play, said the show is meant to evoke the strangeness of the TV-watching experience.

“You never know what you are going to get,” Schreiber said. “It can be kitschy or really bizarre, but regardless of what you are watching, even if it seems monotonous, you are transfixed.”

The play begins with all of the female characters sitting in folding chairs in a semi-circle around a blank TV. One of the actresses gets up and begins pounding on the TV, proclaiming it to be broken, and all of them scoot their chairs in until their noses are almost touching the screen. Ultimately, they throw the TV to the ground and loudly drag it offstage. The scene changes and, with a flurry of movement, one of the actresses becomes a talk show host interviewing a celebrity who cannot identify herself.

“I’ve changed who I am at least three times since I woke up this morning,” she says with a high-pitched giggle.

Throughout, the play questions issues of reality and identity, with the actors continuously taking on the roles of recognizable television types. The directors are positioned on stage in a sort of editing table and give the actors direction and accolades. The play’s real-life stage manager jumps out of her seat to help oversee what is happening on stage during the production.

Harrington said he sees television as a place where “meaning and non-meaning become fused.”

According to the production team, the play was inspired by the works of Lewis Carroll, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Sydney Lumet and David Cronenberg, as well as the upcoming digitization of television broadcast or, as Starner called it, the “approaching apocalypse.”

After “Pleasure Dome” was cast in December, Harrington and Starner sent each cast member home for break with a 50-page reader composed of a variety of texts that inspired the play. Upon returning to Brown, the actors and directors spent the next three weeks working together to generate the final production, all the while “training our bodies and minds to inhabit a television,” Starner said.

While the show itself is quite odd, what is most striking are the costumes. All twelve members of the ensemble cast were decked out in 1970s style bright colors, high-waisted pants, gold neck chains, ascots, loud prints, velvet pants and knee socks.

The most reasonable attitude for a viewer of “Pleasure Dome” is not to worry so much about what it all means, but instead to sit back, relax and enjoy what Starner calls “the playfulness and the joyful banality of turning on the TV.”

“Pleasure Dome” runs Fri. through Mon. in T.F. Green Hall, with performances at 8 p.m. and midnight Fri. and Sat., and 8 p.m. Sun. and Mon.