Neo-Futurists have fun with nation-building
By HEDY WEISS Theater Critic October 27, 2013 5:56PM
Gwynn V. Fulcher, Phil Ridarelli and Jen Ellison in "The Sovereign Statement" at Neo-Futurists.
‘THE SOVEREIGN STATEMENT’
When: Through Nov. 23
Where: Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N. Ashland
Tickets : $20 (pay what you can on Thursdays)
Info: (773) 275-5255; www.neofuturists.org
Run time: 1 hour and 50 minutes with no intermission
Updated: October 27, 2013 5:56PM
Enter the Neo-Futurarium for “The Sovereign Statement,” writer-actor Bilal Dardai’s intriguing, often provocative new show, and the welcome feels unusually constrained. After picking up your tickets you must pass through “customs and immigration,” lining up with your “passport” on specified lines, confronting one of four rather unfriendly bureaucrats perched behind a tall desk, and answering several brusquely posed questions before getting the required stamps.
Once in your seat you will be treated to an intensely personal, at times comic, frequently interactive and darkly existential meditation on the subject of this question: What is a nation?
On a park bench, the intense, sharp-minded, American-born Dardai, who is of Pakistani heritage, wrestles with his own identity. Next to him is Phil Ridarelli, a fiercely energized actor (and surprisingly wacky dancer) of Italian-American heritage. The conversation turns to “micro-states” (little entities established for eccentric or financially devious purposes). And it is proposed that the Neo-Futurarium itself might become one along just such lines, with Dardai contending that “a nation is really just a narrative.” (You might add that its citizens also must be willing to preserve, protect and defend that narrative, and have some belief in the values embodied in it.)
Within minutes a nation is indeed proclaimed, and Ridarelli is chosen to lead it. But it’s not quite that simple. There must be votes (even if they are a mockery of a sham) on many issues: A name (the Empire of Neovakia on the night I attended) must be chosen. A flag must be designed. A motto must be devised. An anthem must be composed. Laws (“language that has grown up,” as Dardai defines it) must be written. An entourage with full protocol must be formed. And eventually, a process of succession must be put into practice, with various factions vying for power. Well, you know what can happen then.
Jen Ellison is the fervent, overly disciplined, angry chief-of-staff type, with Gwynn V. Fulcher as her overlooked associate. Clifton Frei and Mike Manship are the other government functionaries. Under the direction of Brandon Ray, all are great fun to watch as they start to realize that “a play is not a constitution.”
The play is razor sharp until the final segment, when election results are to be announced and the audience (previously divided into various sections that shuffle between theater and lobby space) is ordered to file into one room. The “threat” for not moving is that you will not learn the ending of the play.
This scene diffuses the show’s energy, and, I confess, any attempt to herd me immediately gets my hackles up. But the ease with which the audience followed even these playful orders did suggest how quickly a “country” can become a nation of sheep. Food for thought.