In the program notes for Richard Maxwell's The End of Reality at the Kitchen, Maxwell states that he "found the last line of this play on a park bench in Hampstead, London," and only later discovered the line to be from Khalil Gibran's The Prophet. The line, "the earth shall take my limbs and then I shall truly dance," seems a fitting expression of Maxwell's signature style. His sparse staging and stiff, simple physicality, and vocal delivery clear the theatrical space of clutter and highlight Maxwell's themes with precision and surprising emotional punch.
Set in the security station of an office building, the play unfolds in the glow of an enormous surveillance screen, which constantly flips between various images of different areas of the building. The security officers (some men, some women; some related, some not) deliver a series of long speeches filled with desire for some sort of connection â€“ to family, to romance, to the past, to God â€“ anything to anchor their lonely identities. The characters speak to each other, but the dialogue is structured to be so often one-sided, and the staging keeps physical interaction so minimal, that we almost get the feeling these people are talking to themselves.
These scenes are punctuated by repeated attacks by a man in sweats, a stocking hat, and kneepads. The attacks, though frequent, are simple and clean â€“ comedic in their lack of emotional investment and almost balletic in their attention to clarity and form. It is surprising and upsetting, then, when two of the fights draw blood.
Somehow, in Maxwell's stylized unreality, he manages to elicit a greater experience of the truth of such feelings as fear, nostalgia, loss, and desire because we are left to draw our own emotional conclusions. It helps us gain some distance. Following one of the early attacks, the head of security decrees, "We've had enough loss, godammit." Though speaking specifically of the loss of one of his fellow security guards in the fight, this sentiment seemed to echo and echo, resonating deeply with a post-9-11, post-tsunami, post-hurricane (the list could go on and on) audience.
Maxwell's bare style is provoking, not only in its rejection of theatrical convention but in its challenge to us as an audience to sit still, look, listen, and take notice. In our channel-surfing, MTV generation, that patience may be difficult to muster, which is all the more reason to be reminded of its potential. - Sarah Max
Richard Maxwell's The End of Reality runs through January 28 at
512 West 19th St.
New York, NY.
Ms. Maxfield is the co-founder and artistic director of Red Metal Mailbox, a New-York based company dedicated to creating investigative works of theater by linking original text with a highly physical aesthetic. In addition to directing and performing with RMM, Sarah works a day job in arts administration and occasionally writes about performance.