Saturday, November 14, 2009

Take a pass on The Salt Girl. I'm going to.

Every now and then, I admit, I give a theatre a free pass; if a company is small or struggling, or if there's some unforeseen circumstance explaining why a production hasn't turned out, I just don't write about it.

So sue me.

And I'm tempted to do the same with John Kuntz's thoughtful, complex, but unbelievably tedious The Salt Girl, now at Boston Playwrights' Theatre.

But I'm torn.

On the one hand, I've often admired Kuntz's work in the past, including his acting in the recent Caretaker and his hilarious contributions to The Superheroine Monologues.

On the other hand, however, several reviewers have given their readers the impression that The Salt Girl is "surpassingly strange" and a work of "arresting originality." Instead, it's a dismaying example of Kuntz's usual wit played deadly straight; in its mash-up of sex, death, and consumer culture, it could, with just a little push, operate as a riotous parody of Don DeLillo by way of Henry James. Certainly there's an interesting idea - does death emanate from within our families or from without? - buried in its narrative labyrinth. But as directed with his trademarked combo of visual flair and dramatic listlessness by David R. Gammons (on a set borrowed from I Am My Own Wife), the piece just lies there, stiffer than the many corpses that dot it. Kuntz keeps trying to kick-start the damn thing, as he might have one of his old, funny satires, with disco tunes and The Love Boat and paeans to Sugar Babies and other shrink-wrapped joys/poisons; he can tell that, like one of his characters, we're slipping into a coma. The playwright even strips down to try to wake us up. But nothing works.

I could go deeper into the many issues of this elaborate misfire, but I'm tired, it's late, so let's just not and say we did. And after all, maybe John Kuntz just needed to get a "serious" work of "arresting originality" out of his system. Besides, who knows? There could be some long-time A.R.T. subscribers out there who could really get off on it. (And if so, by all means, go!)

But the rest of you - you have been warned.

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