World Gone Wrong/Worth Gun Willed (Necropolis 1 & 2)
Created and Directed by Ian W. Hill; Assisted by Berit Johnson
December 1-18, 2012
The Brick Theater, 575 Metropolitan Ave., Brooklyn, USA
Nightmares are made to recur, which is why there was no point not getting swept up in the restaging of Ian W. Hill’s World Gone Wrong/Worth Gun Willed, a collage of setpieces and dialogue drawn from toughguy fictions as old as the film-noir canon and as new as Don Rumsfeld’s collected speeches.
Originally from 2005, the Dadaist double-feature has its characters lipsync-in-tongues to each one’s pre-recorded lines, as if haunted by their own ghosts while they’re still alive.
Hill, as the onomatopoeically disappearing detective William B. Mist, and Ken Simon as the anonymous all-powerful patriarch Thomas Arnold, are especially good at making their faces a ballet of expression, a kind of secret semaphore to smuggle out some comment on the words being put in their mouths.
Hill’s found-text script highlights the obsessive wordplay and endless forced metaphors of film-noir patter; a free-association slam of postwar anxiety, as if some safecrack tumblers of understanding are being nervously fidgeted as fast as they can be.
The play’s existential lawmen and survivalist femmes fatales are racing against a future they don’t realize is barreling toward them like an uncontrolled elevated train, and it’s significant that the beleaguered heroes are the ones delivering pronouncements of civic virtue from old movies we don’t remember, while the assured villains are the ones spouting cynical policy from a new world order we know is coming next.
The more things change the more they get worse, and the characters are trapped in their own remake when the play’s double title clicks over and the scene switches midway through the action from New York to LA, the glaring and shadowy capitals on each end of film-noir’s workaday dystopia.
At that point Hill has been replaced with his “partner,” the homonymically dependable Ned Daley (Adam Swiderski), whom we haven’t seen ’til now but who is seamlessly trying to find out what happened to Mist while serving as his archetypal replacement, amid characters who don’t notice they are replying the events of the preceding hour with minor variations in incident and escalated drab despair and demonic foul play, like the other side of an inkblot not recognizing itself. The hero’s journey runs in a circle, and we’re not sure if anyone is worth betting on.
The mise en scène is Hill’s best ever as a designer, with a painterly palette of lighting, muralistic old-photo projections and a sculpture-garden-like clockwork of motion from the actors. The overpowering cities are embodied by attitudinal architecture, Hill and Gavin Starr Kendall (as a congenital fallguy) bearing the weight of the world in epic slumps and Swiderski a literal pillar of authority (and loneliness). Roger Nasser is magnetic as a motormouthed stooge; Amy Overman and Josephine Cashman were born for their roles as Darwinian social climber and indomitable double-agent waitress, two strong women tenaciously waiting out history; and V. Orion Delwaterman’s ghoulish shtick as a trash-talking enforcer is unforgettable (as hard as you try).
Pointedly plotless and texturally riveting, WGW/WGW is about the foggy backdrop of dread that shadows modern life, defined not by what happens but by what you don’t know.
Twenty years past the play’s events, in a world of both wider freedom and more efficient official evil than these characters could ever conceive of, Hunter S. Thompson would use the mounting alarm of detective-drama voiceover to lampoon conventional society’s unfounded calm and his own exaggerated anxiety alike, and ever since then it’s been a stock device of self-important crime-show spoof. But in Hill’s and his absorbed, committed cast’s conception, it’s repeated as tragedy first time and every time.