In one of the climactic scenes of Goethe’s The Sorrow of Young Werther, the hero, in deep agony that he cannot be with the love of his life, Lotte, reads poetry aloud to her. In their grief they are brought to tears by the poetry, as it is the truest expression of their deepest turmoil. The art is more human than they can be in that moment. Which raises the question: What does it mean to be human? Are we created by the art we consume? Or does some essential humanity create meaning in art?
These are the questions at the heart of Michael Vukadinovich’s Billboard, an SRO Productions presentation now playing at the Onyx Theatre. Except that Billboard adds a wrinkle: What happens if the root of our identity is not art, but capitalism? When Andy (played by Richard Humphrey) gets a corporate logo tattooed on his forehead so he can afford to propose to his artist girlfriend Katelyn (Stefanie Jillian), they, along with Andy’s best friend, Damon (Patrick Edward Scagnelli), struggle with whether it makes him less than human, and how the act of making art around it might restore him to humanity.
That sounds like an intriguing setup for a play, but that’s all it seems to be: a setup. Billboard doesn’t investigate the idea or the people struggling with it nearly enough, instead relying on outworn clichés and facile characterizations (men who are too emotionally fragile to deal with talented women, a slacker best friend) instead of actually grappling with the questions.
- May 31-June 1, 8 p.m., $20
- Onyx Theatre, 732-7225
On the other hand, perhaps the play itself has more going for it, and it was just butchered by director Robert Routin and the cast. Random emotions were thrown around; they seemed called for but weren’t rooted in any kind of understanding of the actual circumstances of a scene, which resulted in a lot of stilted delivery and awkward movement. One actor literally couldn’t say a line without accompanying it with a physical gesture. By the time the final monologue about the difference between art and money rolled around, I didn’t care about either.