Performing Arts: Theater
September 26, 2016
Three directors for two performers seems a bit disproportionate, yet Don Nigro’s The Chaplin Plays yields a high-definition experience. Actors Ivette Dumeg (Chaplin) and Tatyana Kot (surprise auxiliary character Anastasia) are listed as directors alongside Lori Kee. From the moment Dumeg storms in from the house door at Theatre for the New City, we are transfixed within a piece morphing between film, play, rehearsal, therapy session, and interrogation room.

Dumeg is largely alone playing who we believe to be Chaplin in a manic episode of adages on dreams, illusion, reality, and identity, expressed in a dichotomy of theatre vs. film. He recalls sitting on an egg in his pocket in a moment of romantic distraction. Appreciating the profundity of forgetting something so precarious, Chaplin additionally values the invisibility of something too close to perceive.

This notion of capturing the impossible is the center of his tangential discussion. Reality is no different than a dream if one sits in it long enough. While we often escape reality in movies, they are, for Chaplin, hyper-real because of the repeatable exactitude well beyond our meager sensorial capability. Its ultimate decay must be fought by constant creation, hence the artifice of self-construction as a paradoxical definition of reality: an airtight system of logic – seamless enough to make us forget the eggs in our pockets.

Chaplin proceeds to spew his criteria for identity, the first being authorship. In his films, Chaplin wrote, directed, composed, and acted, a dominance speaking to an inherent uneasiness with flux. He furthermore privileges behavior over action, from which the type-A filmmaker is able to compare himself to Hitler – maudlin control freaks. Conversely, Chaplin feels fully himself when immersed in process, suggesting the loss of self as fullness.

This tension between complete control and intentional selflessness is balanced by candidness – incidental self as truest self. Anastasia ultimately exposes this Chaplin impersonator by seducing who is actually an ostensibly heterosexual woman, unable to feign attraction to her. We learn that Chaplin had underage flings, faux-Chaplin being one, coping through impersonation. When she is exposed she shuts down, chanting, “I’m nobody,” indicating sexuality as identity, insofar as it is stolen rather than given.

Although Chaplin acknowledges outsider consent as reality’s illusion succeeding, Chaplin never elaborates on this consensual process. Chaplin occasionally discusses audiences by complaining of their reactionary inconsistency, as though all collections of spectators amount to one organism, as reason to do film, yet it doesn’t ensure unanimous agreement to the fiction of film so much as it ensures the filmmaker not being there to know if they agreed or not.

We then wonder how we apply. Gilbert Peatro’s flickering filmic lighting seems set on convincing us we are watching a movie, but perhaps that is faux- Chaplin’s aim. Although Chaplin often leaps into us, sharing intensely, we disappear once Anastasia enters from the house. Despite our power as an audience to decide the worth of what is before us, we are as forcibly as anonymous as the imposter before us, both by the hands of another.
EYE ON THE ARTS -- Jonathan Matthews

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