The Doom Room
Photo by Dedre ShooThe most—and probably only—insightful thing these eyes have ever seen about the actual work of writing was penned in 1993 by former LA Weekly columnist Michael Ventura. He wrote that the only useful thing to realize about the task of writing is the "talent of the room. Unless you have that, your other talents are worthless."
The talent of the room is how you respond to the fact that, ultimately, the main task of writing is dealing with being alone in a room. How long can you stay there? How do you behave? How often can you go back to it?
Alexander Gog, the fictional protagonist of Jason Lindner's brilliantly conceived one-person show The Gog/Magog Project, thinks he can last a full year in that room. Gog, a frustrated performance artist and writer, has finally found government funding (albeit from a "government agency of secret derivation") for a project; he will lock himself in a theatrical space and remain there for an entire year, living with no chance of escape or exposure to other humans except for one performance every night at eight, "dark Mondays, Sunday matinee at two."
He has a toilet and an incoming chute for essentials such as food. He also has his pen and pads of paper, and he's apparently intent on coming up with something meaningful, lovely even, wrenched from his self-imposed imprisonment.
Except—as we learn within the first five minutes—something goes terribly, terribly wrong. Gog is never released. His year comes; his year goes. And so do many others. But as the actor portraying the actor portraying Gog relates, he is trapped in that cage and forced to perform every night at 8 p.m. for two hours—dark Mondays, Sunday matinee at 2—with only the July 23 edition of USA Today delivered once a day, every day, and a diet consisting mostly of Moon Pies with banana flavoring. This goes on for 15 years—until Gog dies.
There are scraps of notes relating to Gog's performances, pieced together by another actor, who then sets forth to capture a glimpse of what Gog went through—and performed—in those 15 years.
That's the provocative set-up to a piece of theater that, conceptually, is as joyous a mind-fuck as we've enjoyed in years. It takes the play-within-a-play concept and violently assaults it. By the time Gog/Magog's crisp, succinct 70 minutes wind down, it's hard to not feel you've just experienced a theatrical vision unlike any other.
As the name implies, Gog/Magog (the names drawn from the two armies brought together on the plains of Megiddo for the battle of Armageddon in the Book of Revelation) is an apocalypse: a personal one. But playwright Lindner, helped by director Kelly Flynn, set designer David Scaglione, lighting designer Christina L. Munich and, most of all, Jeremy Gable (in an arrestingly convincing and believable performance as Gog) translates this most personal of meltdowns onto a much broader canvas.
It's a hilarious and bitter attack on nearly every conceivable kind of commercial theater—from safe, sugarcoated comedies to equally safe taboo-tweaking plays that appeal to a different but no less converted audience. It's a thoughtful meditation on the value of the artistic experience: on some level, every serious artist must wrestle with the question of why they do what they do. And if what they do provokes anything less than a "sudden gasping of thought of something other than yourself," as Gog wants to accomplish early on in his 15-year odyssey, then why the fuck do it?
As Gog, Gable may lack the scrawny body, tattoos and track marks of the stereotypical performance artist, but his wholly honest and vulnerable performance completely realizes a critical part of this play: the audience has to be on Gog's side, even if we have no clue as to where that side starts or ends.
This is the kind of theater sorely lacking on local stages. It doesn't bludgeon a point. It doesn't settle for parading a grotesque series of atrocities onstage in order to prove one's theatrical taboo manhood. It's not content with merely entertaining, telling a tired, oft-told story or preaching to just one class of converts. It's thought-provoking, unsettling, brutally funny, surreal and rough around the edges. It's one of the best playwrighting vomits I've seen or heard in a long, long time, and the power and imagination Linder—and this production—capture and unleash in this particular room is undeniable.
The Gog/Magog project at the Hunger Artists Theatre, 699-A S. State College Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 680-6803. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. Through Sept. 19. $12-$15.
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