War of the worlds

Watch This Space

By R.L. Harris
Directed by Robert J. Weinstein
The Sackett Group
Jose Quintero Theater
534 W. 42nd St. (279-4200)
Equity showcase (closes May 19)
Review by Adrienne Onofri

Give R.L. Harris credit for trying. A play can be a conventional, linear drama, or it can be a surreal, farcical piece; very rarely is it both. Harris combines the two "genres" in his new play Watch This Space, and though his reach may exceed his grasp, he scores points for ingenuity and attempting to do something different.

The overlapping scenarios are, in fact, the highlight of the play. Harris switches between them cleverly and seamlessly. The problem is that, separated, the storylines are not particularly witty or engrossing.

Watch This Space takes place in the year 2021. Grace and Henry Goldman, an elderly couple and the last tenants of an apartment building in a neighborhood slated for gentrification (once all the old folks are gone), are about to undergo a physical exam mandated by the recently passed Gene Reform Act. Maladies ranging from dandruff to cancer can get a citizen eliminated in this drive to cleanse America's gene pool. Between them, the Goldmans suffer from a host of suspect conditions, including overweight, baldness, snoring, flat feet, and poor eyesight, so the exam shapes up as a battle of wills between the endangered duo and the unctuous government agent.

Harris's futuristic vision lacks the scare potential - or even the thought-provoking power - of such nightmarish prophecies as 1984 because its setup is too long-winded (including a double-sided handout for the audience) and not entirely logical (why are eugenicists concerned with those past childbearing age, like the Goldmans?). In addition, the humorous portents are lame and rely on banal targets like corporate superpowers - e.g., passage of a "Starbucks Act" restricting coffee consumption to certain flavors on any given day. Jane B. Harris and Richard Kohn portrayed the Goldmans as such run-of-the-mill folks that - while the performances might be hailed for their naturalism - they were too bland to generate an impassioned reaction.

Though Watch This Space peaks when it veers into surrealism, the play's denouement suggests that the purpose of the parallel universes is to elucidate the hardship of producing Off-Off-Broadway. This exercise in metatheatre came off instead as self-indulgent whining and was delivered in the most unsubtle manner: broadcast on an audiotape.

No designers were credited in the program, but costumes were appropriate and the set decently rendered a room in the Goldmans' apartment - although its spotless walls, white curtains, and neat furnishings belied the run-down tenement building where they live.

(Also featuring Dan Haft and Dawn Marie Hale.)

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2002 Adrienne Onofri