“Diction, diction, diction!” the actress and broadcaster Elaine Paige was compelled to reply one time, following a particularly jarring voicemail message that played out on her weekly BBC radio show. She might have as well have been talking about this production of Magic Berries. For instance, it took longer than it should have done to work out that a character’s friend was playing the role of ‘Marion Crane’ in a screen-to-stage adaptation of Psycho. More pertinently, however, some of the more philosophical dialogues were slightly lost on me, not because of the sheer depth of what was being discussed, but because the words were pouring forth at such a speed I couldn’t catch it all. Quite ironic for a show with a subliminal message to city dwellers to slow down.
Far from featuring magic or berries, the play quickly establishes itself as a cross between Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialist play No Exit and The Eagles’ chart music song ‘Hotel California’, in which, “You can check out any time you like / But you can never leave.” I wondered if the aspects of the plot directly relating to Andrew (Aaron Tavaler), his secretary Sharona (Liliane Laborde Edozien) and their colleague Meryl (Noelle Adames) not being able to physically leave the office could have been tightened. Any discerning member of the audience would easily establish that not all avenues to communicate with the outside world had been exhausted. But as the off-stage policeman who wishes only to be addressed as Bad (Valentin Ducept) points out, “the simple things” are neglected in modern living, with all its complications and supposed sophistication.
Fortunately or unfortunately (for this reviewer, the latter) the ‘How on earth do we get out of here?’ subplot crowds out the more profound elements of the story, most of which emanate from rather dreary monologues from Bad. They are, to be fair, thoughtful, they are not judgemental or preachy, they are properly thought through. I shall resist the temptation to quote directly from these speeches, suffice to say they form a determined effort to work out whether living in a large city is really the best way to live life. Samuel Johnson’s famous observation comes to mind, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” Substitute ‘London’ for ‘New York’, where this play is based, and how the show ends is (in part) dependent on the characters being tired of the Big Apple.
The pain and frustration that Sharona expresses at having trained at drama school only to find herself in a day job to pay the bills is relatable to people with experience in an industry where supply almost ridiculously outstrips demand. The other characters, too, have their own gripes: all four have different plans for the evening, but only one is able to see their plans through. The play demonstrates, arguably a tad too brutally, that what people fret about in contemporary city life is often not, all things considered, really worth raising one’s blood pressure over.
There are touches of dark humour in the script, raising titters rather than belly laughs. Bizarrely, a proposal is made to someone whom everyone in the room knows is already married, and it was quite a long time after the penny had dropped that the group was unable to exit the office that somebody finally decided it might be a good idea to call 911. Plenty of food for thought, though, in this curious and introspective play.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Manhattan. Nowadays. Around 8:10 PM.
After a good day at work, everyone wants to leave.
Andrew and Meryl have a reservation at Jean Georges and Sharona is going to attend the premiere of an off-broadway play. But what if the door was suddenly locked? And there was no way out? On the hundredth floor?…
Andrew – Isn’t it fascinating to live in New York?
Meryl – To be stuck in an office on the hundredth floor so you can’t do anything to get out… unless you jump? I want to see my kids!
A thrilling play by Valentin Ducept.
and Valentin Ducept
18 April 2017 – 22 April 2017 at 9:30pm