There is No Escape from Infinity Box
If you get angry at people who own and watch televisions, then Ladies and Gentlemen, This is Your Crisis! may well be for you—or would be with better acting, directing and writing.
Kate Wilhelm is a highly regarded writer best known for her science fiction and fantasy work including The Infinity Box, a 1971 short story included in a 1975 collection of the same name. That name is shared by a Seattle theatre project devoted to combining performance and discussion relating to the sorts of ideas with which these genres wrestle.
While the company purports to ask questions about the relationship between humans and technology, the Infinity Box Theatre Project’s production of Ladies and Gentlemen, This Is Your Crisis! ($15 through July 8 at the Ethnic Cultural Center) is more interested in passing judgment than asking questions or providing any sort of entertainment.
The kitchen-sink set is perfectly simple, relying entirely on a few pieces of shoddy furniture and appliances. The snatches of dialogue in the play suggest that the rummage-sale furnishings of Dan Schuy’s set are consistent with the play’s working-class characters. The class aspect of the story remains discomfiting throughout as the empty beer cans and violent sniping between the onstage couple increases. This is Your Crisis sometimes feels like a sermon from the privileged, educated classes against the bear-baiting pleasures of the NASCAR set.
The characters at the center of this production are Lottie and Butcher who race home to spend a weekend parked in front of a TV watching a reality show called This Is Your Crisis. The show is a sort of survivalist race, therapy-as-competition for financial gain and fame. It’s The Biggest Loser meets Man vs. Wild meets The Amazing Race with a touch of The Hunger Games. While there is a nubbin of interest in the indication that Lottie and Butcher harbor thoughts of doing something terrible to one another in order to qualify to be on the show that tension is not dramatically developed.
Lottie and Butcher (Gini Hawkins and David Alan Morrison) have purchased a wall-size television designed to allow them to spend the entirety of every weekend watching the show in brutal detail. They’re also able to select the views they want to watch—a kind of internet-enabled interactivity that is one of a few impressively prescient details from a story written some forty years ago. Unfortunately that prescience muddies the play making it seem less science fiction than quirky-contemporary and thus diminishing the impact.
Catherine Kettrick’s adaptation does not serve Wilhelm’s story well. The dialogue feels blunt, but at least the sense of time is fairly clear with an elegant tendency to show the passage of time by adding mess to the set during commercial breaks. Those commercial breaks also serve as pseudo-black-outs that elide chunks of time so a 36-hour marathon show takes barely an hour of stage traffic.
Kettrick also misses an opportunity as a director by allowing the acting to be overly broad. The TV show’s sound design by Dustin Morache is impressive, if only for its scale. However the offstage sounds such as buzzing oven timers and flushing toilets are poorly placed.
A twist ending is as much a relief for its comic surprise and social commentary as it is for its quick arrival, but this is not the end of the evening. While most theatres hold their post-show discussions after a short break to allow the audience to leave, if they so choose, there is no such opportunity after Ladies and Gentlemen, This Is Your Crisis! Infinity Box launches directly into post-show discussion and the Beckettian intimations of the company name and the two characters nearly immobilized before their giant screen TV suddenly become evident.