I went to see “Slouch” with a faith in overcompensation: A play about depressed 30-year-olds in a New York apartment sounds so dull that no one would dare put it on if it weren’t fantastic.
The show, co-directed by Stella Baker DRA ’18 and Matthew Fischer DRA ’16 and written by B. Walker Sampson, is dazzling in its bold technical conceit: The three characters’ dialogue is mixed with narration, inner monologue and stage direction in an elaborately arranged and largely successful barrage of language.
English professor Harold Bloom GRD ’55 once described the effect of reading One Hundred Years of Solitude as “battle fatigue,” and I can’t deny that I was, if not fatigued, then at least a bit stupefied by the fast-paced and highly artificial speech pattern. This is not a show to see if you’re tired.
The architecture of “Slouch” is intricate, and Emily Reeder DRA’17 (Skye), Marié Botha DRA’17 (Summer), and Jake Lozano DRA’18 (Fletcher) do an impressive job of riding its sometimes surreal twists and turns. The three are roommates in their early thirties. Each is un-, or unhappily, employed. Having slouched through their twenties — what they were doing is far from clear — they hear about their globe-trotting college classmates and feel like failures. Each is in a personal crisis, and since their lives are so entangled, they exacerbate, but also relieve, one another’s anxieties.
The three protagonists are attractive but devoid of any strong identifying characteristics: Skye spends her days surfing job listings, checking social media sites and fantasizing about learning violin. Fletcher (of the sizeable man-bun and smooth, tan skin) is so distracted by his boss’s breasts that he at first doesn’t realize she’s just fired him. Summer pushes paper at a secretarial job, the details of which are left vague.
And then there’s Gordon. Not portrayed by a fourth actor, Gordon exists chiefly as an idea. He is expected to visit next Wednesday; Summer and Skye are in love with him; Fletcher is nostalgic for his friendship. He is a doctor, and as such, he has greatly surpassed them all.
What sort of a play do these elements combine to make? Where can it go from the premises it lays out for itself? Psychological breakdown seems the order of the day, as various characters cry, role-play, kiss, collapse, imagine they’re alone on an island, panic in the grocery store, dream of vacationing with Gordon and almost commit suicide.
Toward the play’s end, as Fletcher looks down at the street below his high-rise apartment window, the command that saves his life is, “Don’t slouch,” a final invocation of the titular motif threaded somewhat ungracefully through the play.
“There ought to be things I want to do,” Skye says in the play’s opening moments, establishing the depressive mood that pervades the play.
The actors do many things well, using their bodies, the stage and the desk at its center to move fluidly, quickly and convincingly between locations and into and out of characters’ inner worlds. But it takes considerable extravagance to make depression interesting, and it takes more than skillful narration to make a plot compelling. “Slouch” doesn’t quite overcome the burden of its title.