Eugene Weekly : Theater : 4.30.2009


The Big Idea(s)
Latini a slow boat ride through humanities class, on acid
by Anna Grace

Johnny Ormsbee’s homage to the theater of the absurd combines a medieval search for universal meaning with existential themes, which feels not unlike using Rogaine to remove unwanted body hair. 

Latini (Dylan Skye Kennedy) and Pirate Cahen (Scott Shirk) with Rachel Pasley. Photo Richard Scheeland

Or is Latini in Dark World at the Very Little Theatre absurd absurdity? Only author/director Ormsbee can say, and it’s likely he wants you to make up your own mind.

In the tradition of Beckett and Ionesco, Latini in Dark World doesn’t have much of a plot. Very loosely, Latini is an exploration of the process of thought. Nervous little Latini (Dylan Skye Kennedy) gets kicked out of Dark World due to his relentless desire to name and create. He then spends the rest of the 105-no-intermission-minutes in a boat with The Mad Pirate Cahen (refreshing Scott Shirk), talking. A lot. About all that stuff you learned in Humanities 101. Occasionally there’s a dance; often there is very loud, dissonant music. Dante (Steve Wehmeier) serves as the narrator/chorus; at one point, he enjoys a little nap on stage. 

It’s hard to say what Ormsbee is striving for here. The play is not as funny as he intended it to be, or perhaps the audience simply doesn’t know when it’s safe to laugh. Ormsbee beats the audience tirelessly with language, using the syntax and phrasing of half of the great male playwrights of the last five centuries. Most lines sound like something out of Shakespeare or his late medieval forerunners; another line is like Oscar Wilde; the next, Harold Pinter with some skate punk thrown in. This conglomeration of imitation wasn’t crafted for audience impact or comprehension.

Rather than edgy, the play feels quaint. Take Ormsbee’s portrayal of women. There are seven women on stage, mostly dressed as sea nymphs in fishnet stockings. Another woman (Azita Mohtadi) walks around in her best 1950s-model glide carrying an apple in her open palm. The women of this play writhe, tempt and occasionally inspire, while men do interesting and important things, like explore the formation of thought and deal with a menacing boat full of Samuel Becketts. When Latini finally does hook up with his dream Beatrice/Eve, what does she do? She listens and giggles as he says brilliant things like “Rhino.” Are there still men out there defining themselves by the quest for an unattainable woman? “Woman as other” was addressed by Simone de Beauvoir in 1952. The last 150 years of industrialization, advances in birth control and public education render this paradigm obsolete, not to mention just plain silly.

Ormsbee offers us a play filled with exclamation points. Most theatrical experiences that have an impact linger in the world of ellipses or question marks. Yet I am glad I saw this play, if only to enjoy Scott Shirk’s maniacal smile — and his eyebrows. Dylan Skye Kennedy displays elegant physicality, quiet charm and a passionate interest in his journey, even when it feels like a trip through the human digestive system. And Johnny Ormsbee must be one hell of a director. Bizarre bordering on farcical it may be, but the production is sharp, visually appealing yet simply staged in VLT’s cozy Stage Left. The cohesive, invested cast ably plays out Ormsbee’s imagination. Go see this play because, although artsy, incomprehensible and absurd, Latini is not at all pretentious; there is too much real love and delight involved in staging this production for pretense. They mean it, whatever “it” is. 

Latini in Dark World continues through May 3 in the Very Little Theatre’s Stage Left. Call 344-7751 for tix.