Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Farewell to the Factory

Michael Underhill prepares a gaggle of IRNE critics for the journey into Language of Angels. Photo by the author.

This weekend marks the last bow of the Factory Theatre, long a mainstay of the Boston fringe.

Which has more than a few local thespians - many of whom got their start here - heaving a heavy sigh.

Not out of nostalgia for the luxury of the place, though. Many (but not all) of the companies scheduled to perform here have found a foothold elsewhere in our theatrical landscape; but none of those venues can offer anything like the gritty atmosphere of the Factory. Bare bulbs, concrete floors, a crumbling brick proscenium - the Factory was too hard-edged and baldly minimal to even qualify as grungy. A serial killer might find it too dank and depressing for his hangout. So when you were playing there, you knew you were doing Theatre.

But at least the space's last tenants, Happy Medium Theatre, are giving their home base an eerily fitting send-off with Naomi Iizuka's postmodern ghost story, Language of Angels.  Although honestly, I didn't care much for the play; I rather liked the same author's Polaroid Stories, but this time Iizuka is undone by her penchant for willful collage - her script, after a strong, spooky start, soon dives down a rabbit hole of pointless time warps, convoluted narrative kinks, and teen-aged characters of such flat affect they seem thinner than the ghosts who haunt them.

The Happy Medium cast in a graveside valentine to the Factory Theatre.

Oh, well - the actors can't find their way out of Iizuka's labored labyrinth, but the design, at least, is a pleasure: Greg Jutkiewicz's lighting is striking, and movement coach Kiki Samko sends the cast bouncing all over the space. But the scenic design is what makes the production feel like a graveside valentine to its venue. Taking off from the play's setting (a seemingly bottomless cavern) designer/director Lizette M. Morris leads the audience on a spelunking expedition to their seats at the start of the show - a journey which winds its way through every grubby nook and cranny of the theatre. Along the way we get a chance to admire much mournful graffiti scrawled over the Factory's stony face by both current, and former, casts (see photo at top).  Like the theatre itself - and the theatre performed there - these sentiments will prove evanescent.  But then so will you and I, my friend.

So to the Factory Theatre - a friend to the fringe indeed - I bid a fond good-bye. And may somewhere, someday, another basement theatre bloom from a similarly hard, unyielding bud.

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