By Richard Ades
Available Light has always pushed boundaries. Shows that incorporate multimedia, song, dance, movement and improvisation are all par for the course.
All that’s well and good. What’s not so well and good is the troupe’s occasional tendency to confuse plays with lectures, sermons or, worst of all, consciousness-raising sessions. That’s the wrong turn Available Light takes with its latest self-written work, Glue.
It starts out with the appearance of four people who introduce themselves as longtime friends of Mark, a man who recently died. They inform us that they put this show together in response to their loss.
“It’s about friendship,” we’re told.
In an attempt to bond with the audience, they then have specific viewers read statements about friendship that apparently were passed out in advance. Each of these—including the comment that our best friends sometimes have four legs—is met with uniform smiles of support from the people onstage.
“Maybe by the end of the show, we’ll all be best buddies,” one declares brightly.
If all of this smiling supportiveness is meant to be taken with a cynical grain of salt, it’s not apparent in the production director Matt Slaybaugh has put together with actors Acacia Leigh Duncan, Jordan Fehr, Elena M. Perantoni and Michelle G. Schroeder. Instead, all four characters seem to be unvaryingly nice.
They’re too nice, in fact, to tell us anything less than positive about their lost friend. As a result, we never really get to know Mark, any more than we would get to know a real-life stranger whom we “met” only through to his eulogy.
We learn that Anna (Duncan) and Rebecca (Perantoni) dated Mark at various times; that Brian (Fehr) created comic books with him; and that Julie (Schroeder) was once his roommate. Schroeder’s description of Julie’s close but oddly chaste friendship with Mark does strike an emotional chord, but otherwise he remains only a slightly clingy but wonderfully empathetic person.
The problem is not only that Anna, Rebecca, Brian and Julie are too nice to say anything negative about Mark—sometimes they’re too busy sharing general aphorisms about friendship to talk about him at all: “To connect, you’ve got to make yourself vulnerable.” “Love is an act of will.” And so on.
A little of this goes a long way.
Watching Glue is sort of like scrolling through Facebook for 90 minutes, except that this is a version of Facebook without the jokes, topical comments or political harangues. Instead, you get only the friends who ply you with sentimental advice while other friends tell them how wonderful they are for sharing it.
Another difference: You can’t log off.
As in its most-creative shows, Available Light concocts Glue out of a variety of ingredients, including projected images, recorded voices, music and movement. If you’re into adventurous theater and performance art, this is a plus.
But unless you also have a high tolerance for being lectured to, Glue’s 90 minutes will go by very, very slowly.
Available Light Theatre will present Glue through Nov. 23 at MadLab Theatre & Gallery, 227 N. Third St. Show times are 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. Running time: 90 minutes. Tickets are $20 in advance, “pay what you want” at the door. 614-558-7408 or avltheatre.com.