Harpo (Jomar Tagatac, left) and Bozo (Patrick Alparone, right) prepare to bring Mo (Rod Gnapp) home in Linda McLean’s Every Five Minutes, a world premiere play at the Magic Theatre. Photo: by Jennifer Reiley
I loved Linda McLean’s Any Given Day so much that I proclaimed it my favorite show of 2012 (read my review here). And that makes it all the harder to convey just how much I disliked her world premiere Every Five Minutes at the Magic Theatre.
In brief, the characters and relationships in the play are assumed rather than established. The use of projections is so excessive it would seem that director Loretta Greco strongly mistrusts her actors’ and McLean’s script’s ability to convey what is necessary for the audience to understand the play.
At the performance I attended, the projection mechanism broke down, so the actors were told to hold and then clear the stage until the problem was resolved. I hoped against hope that the projections wouldn’t return, but they did, and boy were they busy.
I have no doubt whatsoever in the actors’ abilities to convey exactly what McLean’s script required of them without the aid of moving visuals on the big wall behind them. It is possible to portray the horror of mental illness without a surrealist barrage of images, especially when you have Rod Gnapp in the role of a man who has been tortured mercilessly for more than a dozen years. But Gnapp, like the other excellent actors in the cast trying to be compassionate and intense, are trapped in a fragmented, fractured narrative that is neither compelling nor interesting nor even very original. Who are these people and why should we care? That’s never really established, and the play’s 90 minutes feel like the torture the main character was exposed to – and perhaps that’s the intention.
But then the ending comes – and we all play parlor games into the sunset – and it feels, like the play itself, inauthentic, shallow and trying too hard with too little effect.
I feel like I missed something huge here and can’t figure out what it is. So rather than go on, I’d like to shift attention to McLean, whom I interviewed for the San Francisco Chronicle. She talked about the organic process of her writing and how she follows where it leads. She also talks about feeling a sense of success as a playwright, and it includes an insightful perspective on writing that works and writing that doesn’t.
I think success also means you’ve survived at least one cycle of things not working out, or not being able to write, or what you’re writing is not what people want to see. You come back from that in a slightly fearless way, not changing the way you write to adapt, but keeping true to what you know of your own creativity.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Linda McLean’s Every Five Minutes continues through April 20 at Magic Theatre, Building D, Fort Mason Center, Marina Boulevard at Buchanan Street, San Francisco. Tickets are $20-$60. Call 415-441-8822 or visit www.magictheatre.org.