How many '80s/90s pop-cultural references can an author get into one play? Well, if the play is Plug, the answer is many. MTV, Murphy Brown, The Breakfast Club, Unabomber, Kurt Cobain, Kurt Loder. The only recent Kurt not mentioned in this play is Kurt Waldheim.
This is the story of Davis Fleetwood, a mid-20s every man who has agreed to be locked inside a small room, where he is filmed 24 hours a day. The film is then edited down to a half-hour, which is then shown once a week on MTV under the title The Herrnit. When the ratings for the first few shows start to slip, new characters are introduced. These include Davis's "friend" Sal, a rocker whose group has had a hit album covering Kiss songs. And there is Sunflower, Davis's "girlfriend," who takes him on a road trip to his high school reunion in California, along the way "marrying" him in Las Vegas.
Plug is the type of play critics generally like. Well, some critics. That is because it is both self-referential and extremely hip. It's self-referentiality comes from the fact that the audience is reminded numerous times throughout the evening that it is watching a play. It's hipness comes from everything else. Cultural references abound: archetypes are satirized (or so it seems), and stereotypes are returned to the stage again and again -- for what purpose it was hard to tell. That's not to say that all of the writing was pointless. Befuddled Davis's attraction to the false Sunflower was quite moving, especially in the scene where he "married" her. In addition, a scene concerning an old Las Vegas hand's going on about his life's failures while at the same time being approached by a teen prostitute was oddly touching. Unfortunately, most of the writing is simply clever. And cleverness without heart is like sex without love; it has its effect, but it doesn't stay with you for long.
On the much brighter side, there was a great deal to admire about
the production aspects of Plug. The cast was uniformly
excellent. Each actor was energetic and impressive, all but one
in numerous roles. Standing out in this talented group, which
included Derek Cecil, Michael Lawlor, and Ryan
Rilette, were Cindy Cheung and Nicole Alifante.
The direction by author Trainor was also excellent. He used the
entire stage to the full, kept the piece moving at top speed,
and never allowed the visual aspects of the production to get
boring. It is telling and troublesome, however, that the physical
aspects of the production worked on all levels, while the spiritual
aspects were much more problematic. Maybe that's what this play
is saying; we live in cynical, heartless times. If it only could
say it more thoughtfully.
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Copyright 1998 John Attanas