Theater

The Ideal Obituary, @ The Tank NYC

"Do you want more?"

The Ideal Obituary

The Tank, NYC
With Liliana de Castro and Kevin Loreque

March 22, 2018

I've only been to two funerals in my life.

Well, more if you count family pets. That would make it at least 13.

I wrote about my grandfather's funeral in this review of The Undertaking. He came back as a little white dog while my great aunt's breathing apparatus puffed in the background. She died a few years later, and the whole Ukrainian community in Los Alamos joined to to bid her до побачення.

I don't have much personal experience with the dead, but know enough to recognize that The Ideal Obituary turns the entire notion of funerals on their head. Rather, it buries them six feet under while the tombstone reads "She went too far."

The performance opens on a nearly catatonic woman who gazes sightlessly at the light of a television. A man, her husband, enters with unexpected buoyancy and attempts to revive her, feigning happiness in the face of tragedy. Through brilliant writing that repeats words like tear drops, we discover that she's had a miscarriage, and the only thing that can snap her back to reality is crying at funerals.

She likes the feeling, cold and raw, like their roast beef dinner. A funeral is entertainment, connection, cure, tonic, addiction. Her addiction to the sadness of others starts innocently enough, and the couple occasionally skips work to attend more. But the addiction grows, and as the husband vainly attempts to keep her spirits up she sinks lower into the abyss.

He offers to make her a device that measures the pitch of her cries. The lower they are, she argues, the sadder she is.

This is the point where the play switches from slightly whimsical comedy to deep commentary on current media. The television screen, flickering with faint background noise throughout the show, cuts to video clips of viral scenes we've all seen a thousand times. In these videos, we've cut and dried emotions like so many ones and zeros, viewed them to the point where numbness overtakes any semblance of shock, horror, or disgust. What's wrong with a 4-year old shooting a rifle? Why can't we laugh when a gymnast belly flops? Never mind their pain, their embarrassment. It's fodder for our never-ending consumption of other people's tragedy.

The wife, brilliantly brought to life by Liliana de Castro, grows increasingly obsessed with how bad it can get. She desperately searches for the "worst" tragedies - children dying, hate crimes, Latina mothers crying for their murdered sons in Harlem - while discarding Wall Street financiers and anyone who dies of old age. Like any addiction, she needs increasingly more to get a fix.

I thought of Crash, by J.G. Ballard: the terrifying novel I consumed in a weekend while feeling simultaneously nauseated and obsessed. The mysterious photographer, Vaughan, re-stages and snaps gruesome photographs of car crash casualties, until he succumbs to death in a head-on collision with Elizabeth Taylor that fulfills his twisted version of sexual release (though in an ironic twist of fate, the actress escapes unscathed). "The images of these wounds hung in the gallery of his mind, like exhibits in the museum of a slaughterhouse," and we come to worship "a new sexuality, born from a perverse technology."

The Ideal Obituary calls upon similar themes as the wife continues to fetishize death. She claims that "suicide is a love crime," and compares the death of 9 children to orgasms. I mean, c'mon, knowing how we interact with viral videos on YouTube, is it really that far from the truth?

In the confluence of technology and sadness, she believes that an iPhone app can measure grief. When it fails to fulfill her expectations, she ritualizes the suicide of her husband. His is the ultimate sacrifice.

Clips of viral videos interspersed between scenes convincingly and compellingly link our modern obsession with social media to this poor woman's tragedy. I couldn't help feeling that she represented us - the crush of daily digital consumers - while her husband represents technology in all its promise of happiness and a gleaming future.

The play could have ended with his suicide quite satisfactorily, but in the final scene the constant drone of the TV screen reveals that a woman has killed herself, leaving a husband alone.

It's her, we realize, and perhaps the entire play was her melancholy fever dream. With eyes adjusted to the darkness of digital media we wonder just how far we would go. To feel. To connect. To cry.

Image courtesy The Tank website

Cast:
Liliana de Castro
Kevin Loreque

Creative Team:
Rodrigo Nogueira (Writer and Director)
Anderson Thives (Set and Costume Design)
Kia Rogers (Lighting Design)
Fan Zhang (Sound Design)
Kyle Glasow (Video and Graphic Design)

Valeri Mudek (Assistant Director)
Marina Montesanti (Stage Manager)
Monica Vilela and Miguel de Oliveira (Production Management)

Produced in association with Torn Page and Apt 929 Studios
Produced by The Tank and Rodrigo Nogueira

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