Tonight I saw The Power of Duff by Stephen Belber, directed by Peter DuBois. What a treat.
Since my first year in Boston University’s School of Theatre, I have been tested to take my comments further than “I liked it” and “I didn’t like it.” That’s really difficult for me, because a lot of the time I just feel it in my gut. I can’t explain it, I just adore it (or detest it). Well, I finally feel like I can pinpoint why this play had me crying, laughing, and overall empathizing. It only took nearly two and a half years at college!
I’d like to start with the use of technology. In my first blog post I kind of bashed the marriage of theatre and technology, but this production of The Power of Duff used technology in a unique and truthful way. They used television monitors to help move along the story and for once I was completely on board with this use of newer (to me) technology in the theatre. At one point in the play, Charles Duff, the main character (played by the powerful David Wilson Barnes), is standing center stage as screens projecting clips of the news and disasters going on around the world literally pass him by. The screens migrate from stage left to right and back again. This goes on for a few moments before he screams something along the lines of “What the fuck am I doing?” This moment to me was so forceful, and it was made that way by the screens and the images shown on them. This instant in the play encapsulated what it’s like to live in America today. Screens and sad stories and good news and bad news and life are coming at us from all angles. It is chaotic. It is off-putting. And sometimes it forces us to pose the question: “What the fuck am I doing?” Technology, for the win! I don’t think this feeling could have been properly illustrated in a different form.
Another way in which I commend the writer and the rest of the team is how the piece is so modern. As a writer, I find myself nervous to write about iPhones and Twitter because I’m afraid it will keep the work from being timeless or something. This piece showed me that it can be done and it can be done well. Not only is the iPhone used in the play, but there are also mentions of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Google, and more. The play also casually discusses infidelity, divorce, homosexuality, depression, and AIDS. These are topics that in previous times were not talked about as freely. Because I am a younger audience member I was totally on board with this modern perception of America. I laughed as the hyper sports newscaster, John Ebbs (played by Brendan Griffin) chugged a Monster Energy Drink, or when a hipster-activist-atheist traipsed across the stage and told Charles Duff off for promoting religion. I nodded my head because I knew exactly what the writer was talking about. I loved the modernity of the piece. It made it specific, and for that reason it was easier to understand these people, because I am them and I see people like them everywhere.
As great as the modern feel is, a thought that crossed my mind many times as I sat between senior citizens and looked out into the sea of white hair, was “why this theatre?” I saw only a handful of people younger than 65 in the crowd and this felt odd with this banter about technology. I think what made this piece cater to them and also myself was its talk of religion. Religion and spirituality play an immense role in this play. So, maybe technology wouldn’t grab the older generation, but the discussion of religion probably did. Maybe that’s because all the young people I know are atheists and all the old people I know are Catholics. Either way, I found these themes of religion and technology to cater to everyone in the crowd in some way.
Finally, I would like to touch on what I found to be (for lack of better words) the moral of the story. My favorite character and actress, Lisa Duff (played by the talented Amy Pietz) made a powerful statement to her ex-husband, Charles, in the second act. She essentially told him that he needs to focus on his home before he tries to save the world. This sentiment is one I am reminded of every day. You can’t fix the world before you fix yourself and focus on the people around you, like your family. It was more powerful than that I guess it sounds kind of cheesy when I say it, so go see the play and have Pietz tell you! It runs through November 9th at the Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA and is definitely worth a visit.