Didactic 'Felix' is a bit too much of a 'trial by theater'

May 18, 1994|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Sun Theater Critic

The Impossible Industrial Action theater company describes its latest work, "The Adventures of Felix," as a "trial by theater."

It's a description that fits this original script by IIA artistic director Tony Tsendeas in ways he probably didn't intend. In addition to the inclusion of a trial scene, this Theatre Project offering is frequently a trial for the audience.

The show's most serious flaw is that it is about a man who is emotionally numb and is therefore difficult for the audience to care about.

Felix (Paul D. Wright) is presumably intended as an Everyman figure, since the play begins with him seated in the audience. He is then chosen, seemingly at random, to participate in a live TV show that asks the central question: "This is a life?"

Tsendeas, who also directed this multimedia piece, starts things off in an amusingly self-reflexive manner. While we sit in the dark waiting for the curtain to rise, we hear Felix's broadcast thoughts, which include his feeling that his thoughts are so loud everybody can hear them.

Soon two billy club-wielding goons drag the reluctant Felix on stage, where he is at the mercy of a pair of co-hosts (Robb Bauer and Robin J. Hogle) and a sound effects technician (Mark Harp), all of whom appear menacing and jovial at the same time, particularly Bauer.

These three put Felix on trial for what is described as "breach of potential." The trial, and indeed the recurring theme of a wasted life, reveal two of the show's other flaws. Although we are told repeatedly that Felix aspired to be a writer, we are given no indication that he had potential in that, or any other, area.

Furthermore, the trial is one of the piece's most didactic scenes, and it is not relieved -- merely reinforced -- when Bauer and Harp complain they are bored by the long-winded speeches Hogle delivers as the title character's attorney.

A close runner-up in the didactic department is a filmed portion in which Tsendeas appears as Felix's psychiatrist and suggests, among other things, that we are part of Felix's psychosis and will cease to exist when we leave the theater. This is followed by another didactic segment -- an "Our Town"-like scene in which Felix finds himself in a graveyard, receiving advice from the dead.

In an apparent attempt to demonstrate wasted romantic potential, Tsendeas also includes flashbacks to Felix's former marriage. Again, we are told -- but not shown -- that Felix once had an emotional investment in this relationship.

Perhaps not surprisingly, IIA's talented actors struggle with this material. And its special effects were sluggish on opening night.

"The Adventures of Felix" is IIA's first original work in two years. Neither the text nor the production come up to the level the company has achieved in the interim with scripts by David Mamet, Edward Albee, Caryl Churchill and Charles Ludlam. I guess you could call it breach of potential.

'The Adventures of Felix'

Where: Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.

When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Through May 29

Tickets: $14

Call: (410) 752-8558

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