Totally eclipsed


Mare Cognitum


Written by David McGee

Directed by Jesse Edward Rosbrow

Presented by Theatre of the Expendable (

Schaberle Studio Theatre, Pace University, 41 Park Row

New York International Fringe Festival (

Non union (closed August 24, 2008)

Review by Judd Hollander


Three twenty-somethings looking for meaning in the world and in their lives, the importance of religion, the unwillingness to face reality, the need to believe in something. Playwright David McGee raises a lot of points in his work Mare Cognitum, produced by the normally exceptional Theatre of the Expendable, which recently finished its run in the New York International Fringe Festival (FringeNYC). Unfortunately, the story continually leaps from one to the other, causing the play to meander all over the place, often leaving the characters, and the audience, totally adrift.


The action takes place in an apartment shared by roommates Jeff, Lena and Thomas, in an unnamed location (one assumes it's the present day in a major American city) with a gigantic protest taking place outside. However the demonstration is so diffuse, no definitive message can be heard. Some of the signs in the protest called for impeaching the President, not going to war, bringing down gas prices, freeing Chechnya, etc. Jeff (Kyle Walters) finds himself so disillusioned with the whole thing, he didn't even bother to participate - something which upsets the more activist-mined Lena (Devon Caraway). Determined not to write the whole thing off as a lost cause, Lena and Jeff whip up a couple of signs and, at her urging, start jumping around the room protesting at the top of their lungs, to the consternation of the more cynical Thomas (Justin Howard), who's just coming home from a job interview.

What could be an interesting satire on liberalism or a hard look at the futile efforts of trying to take to the streets to defeat the system instead becomes neither as the conversation quickly goes elsewhere when Thomas reveals he has discovered that God does not exist. A point that came up during his job interview, one he recounts with Jeff's help, who assumes the role of the interviewer. However, Thomas and Jeff continually break from this conversation to make asides to one another or to talk to Lena. As a result, the discussion never seems as real or as important as it should be, feeling like it's taking place in a classroom setting, rather than somewhere in the "real world." 


Another problem with this section of the play is that it ends almost as suddenly as it begins, albeit with a sort of twist to explain what was going on, but one which serves as a quick means to move the play forward with no real explanation as to why the scene was there in the first place. If the idea was a way to explore the character of Thomas, the same effect could have been accomplished with a few quick lines, rather than the pages of dialogue that were used. This sudden sifting of the narrative landscape occurs several times during the play.


Because the script keeps bringing in too many variables and elements, instead of concentrating on the characters, none of what is presented come across as all that interesting. In a more serious failure of the script, by the time the play ends, neither Jeff, Lena, nor Thomas have changed in the least. Whether the subject is going to confession, being lectured by a professor, protesting when there is no point in doing so, or traveling to the moon, the story never really gets inside the head of any of these people, who are basically the same when we last see them as we they first appeared.

In many cases the work feels like random scenes strung together rather than a cohesive whole, with McGee at times seemingly unsure what to do with the characters or situations. This is especially most true in the "moon trip." Is it real or not; and if not, what is its purpose? Is this a cautionary warning about the delusions of people unwilling to face reality or a gentle fable about not being afraid to dream even when life as a whole seems utterly futile? It's never made clear. Nor are the bonds between the characters explored enough to explain why Jeff, and later Thomas, goes along with Lena on her space flight/flight of fancy.


The acting by Caraway, Howard and Walters are all okay; but the story never really allows a full picture of who they are, and they end up simply as characters that are irrelevant and annoying more than anything else. Be it Lena continually trying to find something to protest about, Thomas as an eternal complainer and wet blanket, or Jeff always looking for someone to give him direction, the end result is that the audience is left more often shaking their head in bewilderment instead of nodding in understanding.


Rosbrow's direction is competent enough, but like the actors, he suffers from a lack of a cohesive script to give him something to work with. Set and props design by Katy Moore are good, costumes (uncredited in the program), lighting design (by Solomon Weisbard) and sound design (by Nicholas J. Nigro) work well.


Box Score:


Writing: 0

Directing: 1

Acting: 1

Sets: 1

Costumes: 1

Lighting/Sound: 1


Copyright 2008 by Judd Hollander


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