Sunday, July 2, 2017

Futureproof: THINK AGAIN

“THINK AGAIN” is angrily scrawled across the back of the stage, and Lynda Radley’s Futureproof demands more than just a single thought. At once enthralling and sickening, Futureproof, directed by Tom Creed, raises questions about identity, conformity, and modern living. At the Project Arts Centre in Dublin, the production dares audiences to consider themselves and their own participation in the spectacle.
Futureproof’s characters are the attractions in a traveling “freak show” fallen upon hard times. The audiences that previously paid to stare at the exhibition of their bodies are increasingly bored and even violent towards the group’s show, and some way to make money must be found before everyone starves.
As the play begins, a group of society’s rejects cuts open chain-link gates, trespassing on forbidden space to perform for us. The actors assemble Paul O'Mahony's entire set, a temporary living space which reveals everything except the thing itself: the performances of the traveling show. This backstage pass into the characters’ lives invites the audience into a more intimate relationship, creating a feeling of closeness and sympathy before the first line is spoken.
The actors glare directly at the audience before the lights are finally lowered, creating a moment of unease: “Can they see me? Am I making a weird face? What type of face is it appropriate to make when I have paid to watch someone, and they are now staring back at me?” These stares remind us: we, too, are an audience; we, too, pay to see a show; we, too, must consider the ethics of our own gazes.
The first casualty of their ringleader’s crusade to secure their livelihood is Tiny, the fat man. Gerard Byrne’s performance, particularly in his eating scenes, successfully creates profound discomfort for the viewer, as Tiny is forcefully persuaded to embark on a weight-loss routine. His new act as the “Incredible Shrinking Man” is wildly popular. Supposedly, he is an inspiration to others, a neon-lit example of how to become closer to society’s ideal. As the group’s manager, Riley sells narratives of self-improvement, change, and “hope” to crowds, while sacrificing the individuality of the performers. It may at first seem unbelievable that audiences are paying to see a man who is no longer fat, a man who is well on the way to being just like everyone else. However, one need only look to reality television shows such as The Biggest Loser to see that people already pay with their attention to view exactly that. Riley claims he is selling "hope," and the crowds certainly pay for what he’s selling, but “hope” seems a dubious motivation for the desire to watch another person’s pain, humiliation, and tragedy. The struggles Riley markets to his unseen audiences remind people to be constantly dissatisfied with themselves as they are; contentment does not sell. These entertainers sacrifice their selves, attributes that are as much a part of their identities as their names, to become just like everyone else and to feed the economic machine.
The money that these characters need to survive becomes another division within their group. Much as financial stresses can fracture homes today, the interactions between the members of this traveling family reveal how money destroys relationships. At first, the members of the troupe look out for each other’s wellbeing, sharing what they have and caring for each other. The financial stresses of the troupe have altered Michael Glenn Murphy’s Riley dramatically from the person that these performers originally chose to follow. He is an inconsistent character, sometimes seeming to feel shame, but never admitting doubt or listening to others’ concerns. As he becomes increasingly egotistical, the family that Riley fought to protect from starvation is ultimately destroyed by the money that was intended to preserve their way of life.

This performance invites viewers to care intensely for its characters--Karen McCartney's mute mermaid, Amy Conroy's intergender George/Georgina, and the rest of the troupe--while providing plentiful fuel for thought. Whether inspired to reconsider ideas of individuality, conformity, profit, the entertainment industry, or something entirely different, Futureproof demands that its viewers think, and think again.

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